By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Sharing responsibility to end the pandemic

Oregon Health Authority’s May 18 guidance on wearing masks — based on Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order — produced widespread backlash, with debate centering on a “Morton’s fork” choice between unpleasant alternatives:

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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(1) Managers of indoor space can require employees and visitors to wear masks, following rules in that 2,400-work OHA document; or (2) some employees and visitors can set masks aside after showing a state vaccine card proving they are “fully vaccinated.”

Venue managers call that “being between a rock and a hard place.” They want to eliminate mask mandates for people with vaccine protection; they don’t want to confront or stigmatize employees and visitors who, for various reasons, are not vaccinated; and they definitely don’t want to risk spreading the deadly virus.

For Yamhill County commissioners, the situation became a constitutional crisis that threatens our personal privacy, freedom of choice, and rights of access to places of public accommodation. Their resolution last week went beyond disagreement with the state mask policy, instead becoming a heavy-handed ideological manifesto.

For others, checking vaccine status is just a variation of that old saw, “No shoes, no shirt, no service.”

Unfortunately, Yamhill County’s COVID-19 “high risk” status limits indoor gatherings to the lesser of 50 people or 25 percent of capacity. Many business owners who don’t want vaccine confrontations with employees or limited client base are keeping the mask mandate for all.

Others — our company, for example — will offer fully vaccinated employees and visitors the option of going maskless. Here’s part of a message delivered this week to our employees:

“Starting next week, as per state government policies, we will give employees and visitors the option of being “maskless” inside OLI buildings.

“This is not a mandate to show vaccination cards. In fact, many people who are fully vaccinated are choosing to continue wearing masks as a source of additional personal protection from COVID-19. This also is not intended to penalize anyone who has not been fully vaccinated — rather, it is an effort to provide state-allowed maskless working conditions for those who want that.

“There are personal, medical and access reasons for some people not receiving vaccinations. We expect those people — and others who simply choose to continue wearing masks – to be treated the same, in all ways, as those who take advantage of the maskless option. Any violation of such treatment should be reported to management.

“We know this is a controversial issue, and we hope all employees will respect each other’s personal situation.”

For us, it’s an experiment with results to come. We hope Oregon quickly hits the target of at least one vaccine dose for 70 percent of people age 18-plus, which reportedly will eliminate the COVID-19 limits on gathering size; we hope there is a better solution coming in the mask-wearing guidelines.

Mostly, we hope that in Oregon, and across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to lose strength thanks to herd immunity and a vaccination program that has saved a great many lives. With nearly 600,000 COVID-related deaths, we should continue sharing responsibility to end the pandemic. 

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