By Laura Swanson
“… giving the Health Department an award is a no-brainer …” And not having the in-person gathering for the Chamber Banquet should have been a “no-brainer” as well. So then, why did the Chamber hold the large (300+) banquet and endanger people in our community?
That’s a good question, follow the money.
The local health department ten days ago issued a statement asking our community to push pause on large in-person gatherings as our county faced the highest case counts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many/most organizations and private gatherings made adjustments – going virtual, rescheduling, etc.
A notable exception is the Chamber who went ahead with an in-person banquet on Saturday January 29th. The irony is that one of the award winners is the Tillamook County Health Department – as the program of the year … that “worked (working – present tense) tirelessly over the last year (two years) to keep the Tillamook County community safe and educated during the pandemic. This program includes free vaccine and testing clinics, contact tracing efforts and answering questions about a variety of pandemic-related topics.” But apparently the Chamber doesn’t listen to the health department’s information … Health Department representatives were not in attendance as they were taking their own advice to not attend large gatherings.
The County Commissioners purchased a table at the event (not using taxpayer funds) but county officials again followed the health department’s recommendation and chose not to attend. So the Chamber “re-sold” the table … leaving the table empty might have sent a stronger message.
Everyone wants to gather in-person again – when it’s safer to do so. This recommendation isn’t about fear as some have suggested; it’s about common sense and the greater good.
What about other suggested health and safety precautions at the event? Distancing? No.
And not a mask in sight from the photos posted on social media (some of the servers, it was reported.)
Prior to the event, another award nominee asked about why the Chamber would go ahead and have this event, going against the recommendations from the health department to keep the community safe, and the Chamber responded, “Our communities are made up many differing viewpoints of which we truly respect. Since the beginning of the pandemic we have communicated the rules and mandates without bias either way and continue to do the same though (through) our actions. These decisions often make one viewpoint or the other upset that we aren’t promoting a bias that aligns with their priorities. We have found that all viewpoints at their core care about our community.”
Yes, at the core, we all care about our community, and the best way to show that care is to adhere to the advice of our local health authority, and not have large gatherings. That’s not showing a “bias” – it’s a fact – doing what’s best for the community, modeling behavior, like being vaccinated, wearing masks, not having large gatherings, being a leader in our community.
As nearly 300 people gathered on Saturday to honor a variety of businesses and to raise money for the Chamber, it’s very clear the “bias” the Chamber has chosen to promote. Their actions truly speak loudly – it’s all about the money. As hundreds of people in Tillamook County were struggling to find a COVID test or wondering about their next paycheck, since they had to quarantine from exposure, and how they are going to pay the rent next month because of the days they are missing. It’s the front-line workers that continue to struggle and face the hardships of the pandemic. The $75,000 raised at the banquet should be put into a fund to support those impacted in our communities from COVID-19.
The Chamber shows their extreme bias toward the all-mighty dollar. They did not show any leadership or concern about the health and wellbeing of the community and demonstrated extreme indifference and disrespect to our local health department who (present tense) will continue to work tirelessly. It is very likely that this event just extended the county’s length of time in the current surge, increased cases and caused undue hardship for many people in our community, very likely the businesses that the Chamber was honoring. The hypocrisy of this event, the awards given, and the obvious disregard for the community’s safety should be a great concern for community members and businesses.
In the weekly Tillamook County community update meeting (Jan. 25th), Eric Swanson from Adventist Health Tillamook said, “Over the last two weeks, cases have remained high, so the current hospital bed situation is dire.” Tillamook County experienced it’s highest COVID case counts of the entire pandemic – yet the Chamber show went on.
The Program of the Year is an award to recognize organizations, projects, events and other work that does not fall into a traditional business category, Program of the Year recognizes one program that enhances the quality of life in Tillamook County. Selecting Tillamook County Public Health as this year’s recipient was a “no brainer,” as was said while presenting the award. The best way to honor the health department would have been to not have an in-person gathering.
“It’s hard not to recognize our nurses and public health workers for their efforts during the second year of the pandemic,” the statement continues, “While it’s their job to keep us healthy, they didn’t sign up for that job knowing anything that the last (two) year would throw at them. And yet, they’ve stepped up to meet the challenge.” And when local organizations disregard the recommendations of the health department, actions such as these, continue to make their jobs very difficult.
Representatives from Tillamook County Health did not attend the banquet, because they are setting an example, taking care, and concerned about the health of the community – but the agency did submit a note thanking the community for its nomination, it said, “It has, without a doubt, been one of the most challenging years that this program has ever experienced. This team of people have been working tirelessly to provide all their standard and customary services, while also providing the unprecedented local response to the global pandemic. There is a great appreciation for the recognition that comes with being nominated.”
And to have our business leaders follow the advice of the health department would have been a much better award.