County Chair Tootie Smith says business owners and residents have reached their breaking point, in the wake of the governor’s announcement Friday that a third shut-down for Clackamas County and other areas could come as soon as next week.
“I think things are coming to a head with our citizens and our residents,” Smith said in an interview with The Canby Current Saturday. “Last week, I was engaged in conversations with a shocking amount of business owners who have had it.”
Clackamas County crossed the threshold for “extreme risk” — the highest and most restrictive tier of Governor Kate Brown’s coronavirus reopening framework — earlier this month, but was spared a lock-down as long as statewide Covid-19 hospitalizations stayed under 300.
But that is about to change, Brown said Friday, citing predictions from state epidemiologists at the Oregon Health Authority.
“The governor’s approach that she has been using over the past year has got to change,” Smith says. “This plan, her past plans — they all have been an abject failure, driving businesses into bankruptcy and harming our mental health.”
It’s time for the governor to hand control back to county commissions and local health authorities, Smith says.
“I believe every county commission in the state knows public health,” Smith says. “They know how to keep their people safe, and they know what to do in this crisis.”
The governor’s “one-size-fits-all approach” is simply “not working,” according to Smith.
“Obviously not,” she says. “We’ve had some type of shut-down for over a year. … Everybody has been wearing masks. Stores are clean. Restaurants are clean. And we’re still not getting there.”
Smith says the state has received hundreds of millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds from the federal government that could have gone toward increasing hospital capacity, ramping up vaccine distribution and other proactive steps.
The chair has also pushed the state to invest in “proven technologies” — like the advanced air filtration systems that have allowed air travel to successfully reopen.
“Two months ago, I told the governor that I would volunteer to head up a statewide task force to look at those technologies,” Smith says. “She can pick the people.
“We haven’t even had a conversation in this state about how to slow this virus, and known and unknown viruses for the future.”
Instead, Smith says the governor has bucked the reopening trend of more than 30 other states, with continuing and even increasing restrictions that have wreaked havoc on businesses, workers, families and individuals.
“That is a public health failure,” she says. “That is an embarrassment, and frankly, I am outraged. It needs to change right now.”
Smith also had strong words for the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also known as Oregon OSHA, which has been one of the state’s primary enforcement arms for coronavirus restrictions on businesses.
But “OSHA’s job is not to be a police force,” Smith maintains, believing the agency should be focused on worker safety and new technologies she has advocated for.
“I think OSHA needs to stand down from my county,” she says. “If OSHA continues on those efforts, I think OSHA needs to be escorted out of our county by as many citizens as we can find to do it.
“OSHA is not welcome in Clackamas County if the only thing they’re going to do is provide punitive measures.”
In the interview, Smith stopped short of calling for businesses to defy state Covid-19 measures, but admitted that all five county commissioners are frustrated with the current state of affairs.
“I come from the philosophy of freedom,” she says. “I believe each person has a choice to make regarding the vaccination, regarding whether they’re going to open their businesses or not.”
Going forward, the county will be watching the statewide hospitalization metrics closely, as well as the action taken by Governor Brown.
“We’re going to wait and see what the governor actually does,” Smith says. “I pushed back on her really hard. Basically, I gave her notice. And so, if she clamps down on us, we’re just going to have to react to that. I’m not sure yet what the reaction is going to be.”
She also said she plans to release a video message Monday for Clackamas County citizens. If a third shut-down is forthcoming — there’s little doubt the chair will have more to say.
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