By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

County pivots to vaccine resolutions

Both state that commissioners oppose vaccination checks and believe they violate federal anti-discrimination laws. Both passed unanimously.

The commissioners have received a large number of letters, not all from county residents, opposing the idea of having vaccine cards checked by businesses before patrons are allowed to enter without wearing a mask.

Business owners have also said they don’t want to be put in the position of having to check vaccination status. Commissioners Mary Starrett and Lindsay Berschauer have been vocal in public meetings and on social media in opposing the checks.

Some businesses are also now being allowed to create separate seating sections for vaccinated and unvaccinated customers, a provision vehemently opposed by Starrett and Berschauer.

Commissioner Casey Kulla has said he dislikes putting businesses in an uncomfortable position but noted that they have the alternative of continuing to require that all customers wear masks.

Last week, Starrett sought to have the board approve an ordinance that would have banned vaccine status checks in the county, but was told by County Counsel Christian Boenisch it would violate both state and federal law. Starrett proposed revising the ordinance. This week however, Starrett and Berschauer submitted two resolutions opposing the check and declaring them illegal, instead. Resolutions have no force in law.

Berschauer said she favors making it clear to businesses that “if you’re going to do this, we don’t support you, whether or not you have a legal right to do it.”

The first resolution, submitted by Starrett, states that allowing customers who show proof of vaccination to go unmasked “will harm patient privacy and forcing a person to wear a mask or show a ‘vaccine passport’ violates a person’s right to privacy and could result in a business being reported to the US Department of Justice for a civil rights violation.”

It asserts that “prohibiting entry to a place of ‘public accommodation’ to someone who is unable or unwilling to wear a mask or who has chosen not to be vaccinated violates state and federal anti-discrimination laws, and entry to such places may not be prohibited because of their legally protected status.”

In addition, it states that “requiring ‘COVID-19 passports’ for taking part in everyday life -- such as for employment, attending school or sporting events, patronizing a restaurant, or going to a movie theater — would create two classes of citizens based on vaccination.”

Numerous residents wrote to Berschauer and Starrett this week, asking them to stop comparing public health measures to American Jim Crow laws that oppressed African Americans or to the genocide faced by Jews and other minorities in Nazi Germany.

They noted that requiring people who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 to wear masks is intended to stop the spread of the disease and that customers are free to refuse to show a vaccination card, and simply wear a mask inside instead. Businesses are also free to continue requiring all customers to wear a mask.

“It is reprehensible for County representatives to compare mask mandates and vaccination cards to Jim Crow laws. As you should know, Jim Crow refers to the legalized oppression of Black people following the abolition of slavery,” McMinnville resident Leslie Ballan wrote. “A more apt comparison would be seatbelt laws and helmet laws to promote public safety. You may not want to wear them, but it’s the law protecting you from yourself. Please stop turning science-based public health efforts into your personal victimhood. It’s offensive!”

Samantha Wikstrom of Newberg wrote that “You are not being economically disadvantaged because you choose not to vaccinate. You are not being forced to send your children to inferior schools because you choose not to vaccinate. You are not being sent to gas chambers. You are just being asked to wear a mask. … Comparing vaccination passports to being put in a Soviet labor camp (“Welcome to the Gulag,” Starrett Facebook, May 18) is ridiculous. People are in a labor camp because they need to show vaccine status in order to attend a Trail Blazers game without a mask?? The dramatic language does nothing to help Yamhill County. We are continually being divided by this kind of rhetoric, at a time when we could be coming together.”

Wikstrom wrote that “We are not being led by research or science or public health interests. We are being led by conspiracy theories and ignorance and division.”

Berchauer replied to several of the letter writers, stating that “Forced segregation of our residents based on their individual medical choices or circumstance will never be tolerated in this county so long as I’m a commissioner.”

In a discussion with journalists from across the state on Tuesday that included discussion of Yamhill County’s approach, professors from Oregon State University noted that Americans are already accustomed to providing personal data for activities including obtaining a passport, purchasing alcohol or tobacco, or obtaining a bracelet identifying them as being of legal drinking age at festivals and other events where alcohol is being served. Public schools also require proof of vaccination against a range of childhood diseases, for attendance.

“We already do this,” Assistant Business Professor Aimee Huff said.

OSU Professor Chi Chinhuei, director of the Center for Global Health, and Brett Tyler, director of the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing, said there is still significant danger of contracting COVID-19 for people who are unvaccinated.

Noting that the B.1.1.7 variant that is currently the most dominant in Oregon is twice as contagious as the original strain, Chinhuei told journalists “I’m really concerned the people who are vaccine hestitant are a huge overlap with the people who don’t want to wear masks.”

Tyler concurred, telling journalists that the B.1.1.7 variant has spread rapidly, and is now present in the wastewater of 92% of Oregon counties.

“We saw that go from almost zero to 50% in two months, I think there’s very significant risk to people who are not vaccinated and who are taking off their mask,” Tyler said.

He said that another concern is that the U.S. is setting up conditions for variants to develop.

“When you have a mixed population, where some people are vaccinated and some people are not vaccinated, eventually you set up a situation where the virus becomes resistant to the vaccines,” Tyler said.

Chinhuei said another concern is that vaccine cards are being forged, and that the cards show birth dates. He said he believes it would be better for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a digital card people could show on their phones, that eliminates the birth date information.

“It should be a more secure thing that can better protect our privacy,” Chinhuei said.

Statewide as of Wednesday, there have been 199,784 cases and 2,639 deaths. Nationwide, there have been 33.1 million confirmed cases, and 592,501 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The county’s second resolution, introduced by Berschauer, bills itself as protection of civil rights. It invokes the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state Constitution’s bans on discrimination on the basis of religion or age.

It asserts that “Vaccination status is inextricably tied to other protected classes including, but not limited to, disability, religion, race, ethnicity, and military service,” and that “Yamhill County’s residents and employees should not have their civil rights violated due to a statewide, temporary emergency order.”

The resolution also takes a stand against employers mandating vaccination as a condition of employment, and against workplace bullying on the basis of vaccination or mask-wearing.

Berschauer said she thought it was important because “businesses have resources; they’re being told by chambers and others to seek their own legal counsel. How many small businesses do you know who have legal counsel on their speed dial? Not many. Most of our small mom and pop businesses don’t have access to that. …”

Kulla said, “I do not want to have this be a document that somebody holds and says look, this is my legal advice,” and County Counsel Christian Boenisch concurred, telling commissioners that “I just want to make sure that everyone’s clear; this is not legal advice. We cannot provide legal advice to citizens. Generally this is informational only and if anyone has questions about the laws or legality of any of these areas, they should seek their own legal counsel.”

Starrett and Berschauer then said they were not providing legal advice, but Kulla argued that it feels or sounds to people like legal advice coming from elected officials.

Starrett said she disagreed.

Comments

David S. Wall

If it weren't for the ongoing embarrassments and financial costs to the taxpayers, the lovable Ladies of the Dais are quite entertaining.

David S. Wall

Shorty

How many more days until we may start the recall effort to get these two out of office?

bonnybedlam

Yet another failure of the Pro-Virus Commission. Long may they lose!

madmacs

So these two want to dictate policy to local businesses and threaten our local businesses with "...being reported to the US Department of Justice for a civil rights violation"? Prior to this the two seemed to think incentivizing people is somehow coercive. Yet threatening local businesses isn't? The county commission isn't their personal bully pulpit.

ErinChen

Berschauer and Starrett are an embarrassment to Yamhill county. They rely on manufactured outrage to common sense and as this article notes, already common use health measures, thinking they can hoodwink voters. Honestly, how dumb do they think we are?