Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley says his office will not enforce public health orders by Gov. Kate Brown aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
In an open letter dated Thursday, Aug. 19, and posted to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office Facebook page Thursday evening, Pixley excoriated Brown for "overreaching mandates and bullying threats" and said he won't enforce vaccination requirements or mask mandates.
Brown said Thursday that healthcare workers and K-12 school staff will need to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 by Oct. 18 or six weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issues its full regulatory approval of at least one of the COVID-19 vaccines it has already authorized for mass deployment, whichever is later. She has also ordered most state employees to get vaccinated within the same timeframe.
Last week, Brown said Oregon will require that masks be worn in indoor public places.
The orders follow a series of health and safety restrictions dating back to March 2020, as Oregon has tried to get a handle on a virus that now has a record number of Oregonians in the hospital.
"The citizens have endured 'two weeks to flatten the curve,' unemployment and the loss of several of our small businesses over the last year and we have had enough!" Pixley wrote in Thursday's letter, which was addressed to Brown and titled "Local Control of Covid Related Mandates."
Hospital administrators across the state say they are running dangerously short on beds. In Roseburg, a hospital reported Thursday that a man with COVID-19 died in the emergency room while waiting for an intensive care bed because the intensive care unit was full.
While Brown, public health officials and many local officials throughout Oregon have pleaded with Oregonians to get vaccinated and wear a mask in public, Pixley stopped well short of encouraging Columbia County residents to do so in his letter.
"The citizens of Columbia County will choose to wear a mask or choose not to wear a mask. We will choose to get vaccinated or choose not to get vaccinated. But we will do so as individuals with free will over our own bodies," Pixley wrote. "And I, as sheriff, will fight for and support the residents of Columbia County in this endeavor."
Pixley's letter drew hundreds of comments in the hours after it was posted to Facebook on Thursday evening. Many offered praise and support for the sheriff. Others criticized him, including some who said they voted for Pixley in the 2018 shrieval election, when he was a lieutenant in the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, and would not do so again.
A spokesperson for Columbia County's three elected commissioners distanced them from Pixley's remarks in a statement sent to the Spotlight on Friday afternoon, Aug. 20.
"Sheriff Pixley's letter to Governor Brown clearly illustrates his level of frustration regarding the governor's decision to bypass the authority of the county's elected officials to determine what is appropriate for our community," Mark Pacheco wrote. "He did not seek review, input, nor endorsement from the Board of Commissioners concerning his letter to the governor.Â And while his letter is passionate, his words are his own and he does not speak on behalf of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners."
Pacheco added that the county commission has instructed county employees to comply with Brown's mask mandate "while continuing to work with the governor and her staff on behalf of the residents of Columbia County."
The statement concluded: "In the meantime, we ask that everyone continue to stay safe, be respectful of each other, and make responsible decisions as we all navigate through these challenging times together."
It is unclear what role Brown intends for local law enforcement agencies like the Sheriff's Office to play in enforcing her orders on COVID-19.
A spokesperson for Brown did not respond Friday to a request for comment on Pixley's letter.
In neighboring Washington County, on Thursday, Chair Kathryn Harrington said the county would respond to complaints about non-compliance with the mask rules, first providing "education" to businesses that reportedly flout them before progressing to a "civil fine" for repeat offenders.
Editor's note: This story has been updated Aug. 20, 2021, with a statement from a spokesperson for the Board of County Commissioners. Mark Miller contributed to this report.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.