By Okanogan County Watch
As volunteers who regularly take notes at meetings of the Okanogan County commissioners for Okanogan County Watch, we support Gay Northrup’s thought-provoking recent letter regarding the county commissioners’ failure to step up to the plate by addressing the physical, emotional and economic pain the COVID-19 virus is causing residents of this county.
The casual approach of the Board of Commissioners to the virus, and the resulting lack of consistent and coherent policies at the county level, have cost our county government and its employees dearly. One month after the Sept. 21 recording cited by Northrup, the situation has unfortunately not changed significantly.
However, during the past week’s morning session of Oct. 19, Commissioner Chris Branch made a determined and lengthy attempt to reach agreement with Commissioners Andy Hover and Jim DeTro that coherent COVID policies need to be developed for at least county employees and facilities.
Among Branch’s concerns were unclear county masking requirements, inequity among departments, and confusion over procedures for COVID-exposed employees. He raised the possibility of liability of county commissioners in the case of employee infection, due to lack of implementation of the statewide indoor public employee masking mandate.
Unfortunately, last Tuesday’s recording shows that Branch’s hopes for agreement were met with argument, resistance and change of subject by Commissioners Hover and DeTro. The closest the board could come to consensus was that if an employee comes to work feeling sick in some way, he or she should go home.
Should our leaders continue to helplessly allow the virus to run its course and passively accept the results, or should they take responsibility for doing more on a daily basis to lessen the amount of infection, death, and long-term disabling conditions from COVID-19? Is it really too much to ask that commissioners and county employees follow the mandates of our state government regarding employee safety and the guidelines for exemptions?
Regarding safety, Branch used the example of an unnamed county department in which only two employees have been vaccinated. They also wear masks, unlike the other employees there. He asked, “Where is the protection for those two employees?”
The stress placed upon county employees and the impact upon our county government has been disturbing, as follows:
The County Auditor’s office staff was at one point reduced by 40% due to C0VID, and the public (frustrated by long lines) had begun to harass the staff. Auditor Cari Hall had to make the decision to close her office until the situation was under control.
Planning Department Director Pete Palmer explained months ago that unmasked individuals were entering her office in spite of the fact that there was an immunocompromised individual there. She did not receive much guidance from the commissioners. Finally, during this last COVID surge, she made the decision to lock the doors of the Planning Department, requiring appointments for those who wished to confer. She can be seen sanitizing the front table and microphones by herself before speaking in the hearing room, although Branch had reminded other staff last week that possible HIPAA sanitation violations were important.
While the Financial Committee, the Assessor’s Office, the Department of Emergency Management and others consistently wear masks during commissioners’ staff meetings, other departments such as Public Works virtually never wear masks. Some, such as the Sheriff’s Office, occasionally wear masks.
Finally, the Coroner’s Office raised alarms on Oct. 11 that due to hospital overload of COVID patients and thus more deaths at home, more storage space was urgent and that two corpses were being stored in a garage at that time.
Last Tuesday, Hover (who has not worn a mask for months even when simply listening to the audience) announced “I am done on the whole masking thing.” Having been on vacation during most of our state and county’s recent COVID-19 surge, he thought the masking mandate had been declared “two years ago or something like that.” We hope he will better inform himself as to the recent situation.
The county’s livestreaming and archived videos now make it easy to view commissioners’ meetings from home. For help in finding dates or times, see summaries by Okanogan County Watch. We hope citizens will stay informed and form your own opinions by watching our county’s operating principles.
Submitted by Stephanie Clark, Okanogan; Isabelle Spohn, Twisp; Emily Sisson, Winthrop; Ruth Hall, Mallot; and Katie Haven, Methow.