The Bend City Council has asked the Deschutes County Commission to issue a new mask mandate requiring face coverings indoors.
Mayor Sally Russell on Monday sent a letter to the commission on behalf of the council referencing the spike in local COVID cases due to the delta variant and the capacity issues at St. Charles.
“As local elected leaders, we must be united in taking action to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” wrote Mayor Russell in the letter. “In your role as directors of the public health authority of our County, we look to you take the actions necessary to prevent illness and death from this disease, and we will support you in those actions. The welfare of our businesses, restaurants, and, most importantly, our community members, depends upon our leadership.”
The council’s request comes less than a week after the commission as a whole, when given the chance, declined to even strongly encourage masks.
And it comes as cases locally are skyrocketing.
The OHA on Friday reported 240 new cases in Deschutes County – just since Friday.
The issue came up at the commission’s meeting last week, following a COVID update from county health leaders.
Commissioner Phil Chang was the only one of the three who suggested the board issue a statement strongly encouraging masks.
Commissioners Patti Adair and Tony Debone both said they didn’t think the community needed another government agency recommending anything because the OHA and CDC has already done so.
In an interview Monday, Russell said the City Council was prompted to send the letter after a similar presentation from Deschutes County Health Director George Conway.
“We obviously hope that our message to them will make the difference,” she said.
“In your role as directors of the public health authority of our County, we look to you take the actions necessary to prevent illness and death from this disease.” – Bend Mayor Sally Russell
But it appears the letter won’t change any minds at the county level.
“We had our discussion last Wednesday,” Debone said. “I’m not supportive of a mask mandate.”
He also said he didn’t want to force small businesses into being the mask police again.
“Would they need to add staff, if we had a mandate and expect them to enforce? Or would someone call 911 and ask for a police officer to show up for somebody not wearing a mask in the store,” he said. “So it’s just a bad situation.”
Multnomah County on Monday announced everyone age 5 and up will be required to wear masks indoors beginning Friday.
Violators face fines up to $1,000.
Gov. Kate Brown applauded the announcement from Portland and called on other state leaders to send a similar message.
And she hinted at a possible statewide mandate.
“At this point in the pandemic, local leaders are in a unique position to help deliver the message to members of their communities about effective safety measures like vaccination and masks,” she said in a statement. “If local leaders continue not to act and their regional hospitals exceed their capacity, it will impact hospitals all across the state. We will continue to explore statewide health measures necessary to stop the delta variant from stretching Oregon hospitals beyond their full capacity.”
On Monday, Adair said county commissioners planned to discuss the issue again on Wednesday.
Last week she questioned the efficacy of masks and she doubled down on that Monday saying the only truly effective face coverings were N95 masks.
“There’s a lot of information on whether cloth masks are effective,” she said, adding that a doctor had just sent her information – five different studies – that she planned to go over before Wednesday. “What I really hope people do…if they get COVID, they call a doctor and get on some sort of therapeutic.”
St. Charles on Monday reported it had 33 COVID patients; five are in the ICU and three are on ventilators.
But overall, the hospital was nearing capacity last week when 97% of the 381 beds in Bend were full.
Meanwhile, the hospital has had trouble hiring over the past year and currently, more than 500 positions remain unfilled.
“The concise message here is that, without prompt intervention, this variant could spread more efficiently and completely across our population,” Russell wrote. “We are acutely aware of St. Charles’ staffing shortages, and we recognize the critical need to support our local health care workers through this time.
“Beyond that, we also realize our collective responsibility in ensuring that our hospital system is ready and able to deliver care to all of our community members.”
Debone said he supported St. Charles and the health care system, saying “this is serious business.”
“But it’s a personal responsibility and rights issue in getting a vaccine and making that choice (on masks) for yourself and your family.”
You can read the mayor’s full letter below.DeschutesCountyCommission_