By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

County COVID resolution comes under attack from residents

Sixteen people submitted public comments last week, all in opposition, regarding a resolution introduced by county commissioner Mary Starrett.

Starrett hopes to persuade commissioners Rick Olson and Casey Kulla to pass the document stating county businesses and individuals cannot be penalized for failing to follow the governor’s executive orders regarding public health and COVID-19.

County attorney Christian Boenisch said the resolution was not intended to challenge the governor’s authority to issue executive orders, and would not be a “get out of jail free card.”

Commissioners tabled the discussion after Kulla objected that neither he nor Olson were given the opportunity to read a study Starrett relied on for data and language in crafting the resolution. 

The paper was created by the Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge, a nonprofit started by Dr. James Lyons-Weiler, that purports to show CDC data on COVID-19 mortality is wrong.

Kulla said an error in the resolution, which understates the percentage of Oregonians who have died from COVID-19 by a factor of 10, had not been corrected in this week’s packet, as of Monday.

Commissioner Rick Olson said Thursday he disapproved of how Governor Kate Brown delegated the state Occupational Health and Safety Administration enforce business regulations with regard to COVID-19 requirements.

The self-published IPAK report neither lists the authors’ credentials nor appears to have been peer-reviewed. The News-Register was unable to find credentials for most authors, although at least one appears to be a naturopathic physician.

Lyons-Weiler is a former University of Pittsburgh research scientist known as a prominent voice in the anti-vaccine movement.

In October, the United States Court of Federal Claims rejected Lyons-Weiler’s testimony in a lawsuit alleging vaccine injury, noting that “Mr. Lyons-Weiler is not a medical doctor. Instead, he has a Ph.D. in ecology,” and stating that his testimony did not rely on medical records, and “was largely unpersuasive.”

Kulla told the News-Register he rejects the paper’s basis and arguments of fact. 

“Basing a county’s public health guidance upon a paper like this and then inviting the lead author to share his perspective is misguided and harmful,” he said.

We can and should disagree on the actions prompted by the basic set of facts ... but we still need to have a set of facts upon which to begin any policy discussion. The essay presented denies the evidence and set of facts that we can and should work with.”

Olson said Monday he had not yet reviewed the paper.

County Health and Human Services Director Lindsey Manfrin did not respond to a request for comment by the News-Register on the paper’s conclusions.

Several people who wrote
to the county were angry commissioners were considering the resolution without providing sufficient time for the public to respond.
Yamhill resident David Brock called the resolution “dangerous, reckless and frankly ludicrous.”

Bijoux Harrison-Doherty, a union representative for the county Employees Association, urged commissioners to reject the resolution, saying it would require the county and union to reopen contentious negotiations that were concluded in November.

“There is overwhelming scientific evidence to show how COVID-19 spreads in the community, and we must not make the mistake of believing we are any different simply because we’ve been fortunate so far,” Harrison-Doherty wrote.

Marta Soppe-Navetta of Newberg accused Starrett of thinking she knows better than scientists and experts from every corner of the world.

“She is playing a dangerous game, risking county residents’ health to stir her base up,” Soppe-Navetta wrote. “COVID-19 is real, it is a huge threat to the health and safety of our county and no amount of ignoring it will make it go away.”

Jeremy Weisz, an associate professor at Linfield University, noted statements in the resolution are opinions, unsupported by evidence.

Maryl Kunkel of Newberg said it was tragic commissioners took up a discussion casting doubt on testing accuracy and death tolls.

“I am frustrated that the board relegates the conversation to either/or. Either businesses must suffer while we save people, or people must die to protect our economy. Please do both,” she wrote. “We can both follow the science and leadership of state health authorities protecting our most vulnerable community members while also supporting our businesses through this pandemic.”

Fiona Gwozdz Mancill of McMinnville described herself as pro Main Street, and also “very much pro community health.”

“What we need is not fewer restrictions, but more support to follow them in full and the resources and support to provide for businesses and individuals who cannot make ends meet on account of the changes,” Mancill wrote.

Val Blaja of McMinnville wrote “the primary purpose of government is to protect and serve residents. It is not to cater to the demands of those who choose to ignore and politicize science.”

Starrett told the
News-Register the letters received were from a mass email campaign.

She said commissioners received emails from local business owners supportive of efforts to lessen restrictions.

“At a time when our local businesses are struggling to keep afloat, I am determined to offer any and all options to help them stay open,” she said.
Starrett provided a letter from Planet Fitness owners Octavio and Kalpana Lubrano, Dan Afrasiabi and Cecilia Newman.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to shutting down or severely limiting businesses without data to show COVID outbreaks are occurring at those businesses (i.e. Fitness Clubs) in particular,” they wrote in a joint letter. “We will not make our communities healthier by shutting us down.”

On Monday, Planet Fitness released a statement on behalf of all Oregon club owners appealing to Gov. Brown to allow fitness centers to reopen. In it, the company included a recently-published study by the Oregon Consulting Group, a student-run consulting organization housed in the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon, arguing gyms are low risk for COVID transmission.


Don Dix

One size never fits all -- ever! 99K cases statewide (12/18), and 75% are in 7 counties (5K plus per county). And it appears a large majority of deaths are older and/or have underlying conditions as well. Maybe that should have a play in some mandates.

My question has always been -- if a test comes back positive, and two or three days later the subject tests negative, does that positive test remain on the books, or is it removed? If not, the total number of confirmed cases would be proportionally skewed, wouldn't it?

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