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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Will Tootie Help Clackamas County Folks Stay Alive, Or . . . ?

By Bill Street

Tootie Smith has a very difficult decision to make the day she is sworn in as chair of our Clackamas County Board of Commissioners next month. Does she acknowledge the ongoing pandemic and support the County Public Health Department efforts to protect us? Or, does she double down and both model behavior and support self-serving policies that, if left unabated, will continue to kill us? 

What makes this choice difficult for her is that if she does the correct thing, she endangers her political base. If she does the wrong thing. she endangers her political base. One is a political risk, the other a public-health risk. (Recent surveys show only 2 in 5 Republicans have indicated an interest in taking the COVID vaccine; for Democrats, it’s closer to 3 every 4 in 5.)  

She and her Republican commissioner-elect Mark Shull ran for office promising cheap government. In one of the worst pandemics of our generation, these Tea Partiers would follow warmed-over Reagan policies of attacking government. They choose to overlook that this is the same government required to fund the creation of a vaccine, pay for its production and develop a plan and fund how to distribute it, in a fair and equitable manner.

Tootie made a political calculation similar to those who participated in rioting at the state capital last week. They and their fellow believers feel their definition of “freedom” is somehow more important than the lives of Oregonians. To the degree there is any logic in this argument, it seems to be based on the “slippery slope” concept that if we allow the county, state or federal governments to close schools for public-health reasons, then they can and will close schools at other times.

The primary difficulty with this argument is that it has been proven to be false. How is this proved? Simple: we’ve been here before.

On October 15, 1918, the Oregon Journal evening newspaper  announced that anyone coughing or sneezing at the movie theater would be asked to leave immediately. Benson School in Northeast Portland recorded four Spanish flu cases and was immediately put on lockdown. It would later be converted into a temporary field hospital for those infected with that virus, a novel H1N1 virus.

Portland’s Public Health Officer immediately identified “No Sneeze” zones like theaters, schools and churches. If you sneezed. you left. A sizable public-health education effort was launched. Pastors educated parishioners, movie theaters showed educational slides and schools were required to teach about the flu and effective prevention measures like, yes, wearing a mask.

Just a week after the flu hit Portland in 1918, then-Governor and Republican James Withycombe ordered the State into a massive shutdown. Some 36,000 Portland students were now at home. Parades were cancelled, churches suspended and dance halls closed. Meier and Frank, the state’s most prominent department store, cancelled all in-store shopping. Oregonians were advised to wear a mask and maintain four feet between each other.

By November 3, 227 Portlanders had died. Oregon City reported 17 new cases. To the south, San Francisco had more than 2,000 new cases in three days and implemented a mandatory mask requirement with fines and imprisonment as a penalty.

The Mayor of Portland ordered the police to accompany health inspectors to ensure enforcement. The Oregon State Board of Health took actions to make quarantines legally enforceable.

By the time the pandemic ended, more than 3,000 Oregonians had died. We’re coming closer and closer to that number today.

After the 1918 pandemic, there was no governmental overreach.  Freedom of speech was not undermined.  In fact, the pandemic led almost directly into the Roaring Twenties when personal freedoms expanded instead of becoming contracted.

So Tootie has a choice. Does she put the health of Clackamas citizens ahead of her personal political ambition or does she double down and take us down more mortally dangerous rabbit holes?

And, yes, lest we forget, inquiring minds still want to know:  

How many people caught COVID as a result of her “everyone’s invited” Thanksgiving dinner? You know, the affair where she went on national Fox News to flaunt our governor’s request to limit guests to six. She said that the Kate Brown directive made her feel like a “second class slave.”