Time for the state to back off on COVID

Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority have been in the driver’s seat in Oregon’s response to COVID for well over a year now. 

What’s been the result?

Depends, of course, on whom you ask. On one side are those who fully buy in to the play-it-safe-at-all-costs strategy, which essentially is the one Oregon has adopted through most of the last year. They say lives have been saved by Oregon’s restrictions, which trumps any damage to people’s livelihoods, psyches or other indicators of community health.

On the other side of the spectrum, views range from those significantly mistrustful of the motives of policy-makers and who question the value of masks and vaccines, to those who simply wonder if we aren’t experienced enough by now to make rational, reasonable, individual adult choices about how we are going to proceed with our lives under the spectre of this bug.

Certainly, the messages relating to properly responding to COVID have been confusing, especially as politics and control have, at least in the eyes of many citizens, led to excessive control and draconian policies from the state. 

Apparently, the doubts about repeated knee-jerk forced closures of businesses and crackdowns on public gatherings are gaining traction, even in liberal strongholds like Eugene, where the entire Lane County Board of Commissioners signed on to a letter to the governor expressing growing frustration with shut-downs of businesses, the most recent coming last week as Linn and 14 other counties entered the “Extreme” risk category of restrictions, with resulting closures of indoor dining, movie theatres, gyms and others. 

In the April 27 letter, leaders of those counties, including Linn County’s Board of Commissioners, finally said what a lot of Oregonians have been thinking for some time: “Shutting down our restaurants and further depriving Oregonians of their right to make calculated community engagement risks, when the virus continues to spread elsewhere, will not result in success.” 

They asked Brown to reconsider her strategy in dealing with the virus, pointing out that each county has its own culture and unique “environment” and success or failure in dealing with the virus should be instigated locally.

Oregon legislators have already introduced proposals to curb the governor’s power during declared emergencies, following the lead of other states that have done the same thing. Brown last week extended Oregon’s pandemic emergency declaration for 60 more days. 

Despite a small wave of exposures among some of our local high school students in the last couple of weeks, frankly, there’s a reason why formerly resolute followers of the OHA Way are apparently having doubts. This thing is killing us.

Let’s see: We’ve been living with the coronavirus for 14 months now and many of us have become quite accomplished at donning masks, if at least to prevent our local business owners from being fined by the state because we aren’t wearing one.

Nearly a third of the state is vaccinated now. Linn County’s numbers are not far behind.

“Our people understand the risks associated with COVID and our businesses have proven their ability to adhere to the highest expectations in safety, sanitation, and air quality,” the letter to Brown pointed out. Issued in conjunction with the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, it went on to point out that “it is no coincidence (that) Oregon has not seen one instance of a super spreader event tied to our hospitality industry.”

We agree.

Isn’t it time to accept that there’s room for responsibility – not dictatorial edicts from Salem, but decisions that can be made on a more local level by rational leaders? Let the businesses reopen.

If one is concerned about the risk of shopping when numbers are high, there are plenty of options to have groceries delivered – at least to one’s vehicle in the store parking lot. If we don’t like the conditions at a local restaurant, we don’t have to go there. If we don’t want to attend school or church or go to the movies in a theater, there are other ways.

Though we may not be yet able to clearly see the real results of our state’s policies in this thing, there’s no question state residents have been forced to live by are proving detrimental, as our report on page 14 indicates.

Then there’s the illustrative case of a Bend-area high school runner, who actually passed out as she neared the finish line in a recent 800-meter (half mile) high school race, because she was wearing a mask as instructed by the OSAA.

While that may not be iron-clad evidence that state officials and the OSAA, which governs high school sports and has played along with OHA and Department of Education dictates since the beginning of this pandemic, have overstepped on this one, it certainly provoked a wave of outrage which had been previously camouflaged by carefully worded statements and policies as high schools tried to implement the ever-changing rules. 

Bottom line: After a year of this, Oregonians need some breathing room. There is room for responsibility now, more than ever.

Vaccinations are readily available. Masks and face shields are available. We’re all used to seeing them and even wearing them now. We know what hand sanitizer is and how to use it.

If we refuse to use those means of avoiding COVID, and we get it, it’s not the state’s fault. At some point responsibility needs to take over, the same responsibility that keeps us from stepping in front of moving vehicles.

Most of us are intelligent enough to be able to plot our own course from here. If we knowingly attend a potential super spreader-type event, don’t take precautions, and get sick, whose fault is that?

The dictates from Salem haven’t been healthy for a lot of people. We will likely see fall-out from the forced isolation, the lack of social contact, the fear and dread of an unseen disease, for a long time.

It’s time to start taking personal responsibility and to tell the governor to cool it.

Which is exactly what our own and other county officials have done.