By Bill Baertlein, Tillamook County Commissioner
As we move through this pandemic, we are all facing challenges we never anticipated. The board of commissioners closed county buildings to all but essential staff. We placed Tillamook County on lockdown and went beyond the Governor’s mandates to protect citizens from the many tourists who could potentially bring the coronavirus into our community during spring break. We worked closely with our medical community to ensure the safety of our citizens. We believe everyone’s hard work has helped to suppress the coronavirus and whether it was luck or our due diligence, I think some of the closures we instituted certainly made a difference.
So where are we today? We went from six cases to fifteen in a very short time. The good news is that we were prepared and completed the contact tracing and screenings necessary to isolate cases. A big thank you to our healthcare community! The bad news is that the coronavirus continues to spread. It appears that one of the top methods of slowing this virus down and keeping our businesses open is for everyone to wear face coverings. Wearing a face covering is a small ask to keep us from going back into a complete shutdown.
How has the pandemic changed access to county facilities? County buildings are public buildings and everyone entering is required to wear a face covering. We are required to follow the same rules as the business community. Employees of the county may remove their face covering when they get to their workstation if they can maintain 6-foot social distancing. Entry to the courthouse is through the south entrance and by appointment only. Making an appointment to conduct county business has proven a successful way to keep our doors open in a safe and effective manner and allows staff to provide needed services. The phone numbers needed to make appointments are located on the county website and at the south entrance of the courthouse.
How has the pandemic changed public access to commissioners’ meetings? Due to the social distancing restrictions for our meeting rooms, we offer teleconference options for our 8:00 a.m. Wednesday workshops and livestreaming and teleconference options for our 10:00 a.m. board meetings. Both audio and livestream options are listen-only. Public comments may be submitted by emailing email@example.com. I value public participation and miss not having the public attend our meetings. It does however appear that far more people are now attending remotely by watching the livestream and listening on the phone. To better connect with the community, we also started a Community Update teleconference every Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. During this meeting legislators, community health providers, mayors, county commissioners, and others, provide updates and valuable information about what we are seeing and doing during the pandemic. To extend the reach to more of the public, this Community Update teleconference is livestreamed on KTIL-FM 95.9.
What about tourists potentially bringing the virus into our community? First, I want to emphasize that our transient lodging providers have been very responsible with their reopening. These businesses are exceeding many of the federal and state recommendations and are diligently informing and educating guests about face coverings and social distancing. Also, working with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), Tillamook County has temporarily closed beach access in Pacific City to automobiles except for boat launching. OPRD is facing severe budget cuts and has been forced to significantly reduce staff, including the elimination of rangers for beach enforcement at Cape Kiwanda. We received over one hundred public comments concerning closing the beach access to vehicles, and while not popular with everyone, just over half of the comments stated how pleasant and clean the beach has become without vehicles. It may be time to look at making this a permanent closure to all but boat launching.
Finally, we are all under tremendous stress during this COVID-19 pandemic, along with the social unrest due to social equity issues in our nation. Many of us are stuck at home and unable to socialize and are becoming frustrated. These factors can cause anger and intolerance. I find that I can be short tempered and frequently need to apologize for a statement or comment I have made. It is time for us all, including me, to take a step back to appreciate what we have in our special county. Let’s continue supporting each other as we overcome this challenging time together. Enjoy the feel of sunshine if it ever happens! Enjoy our great outdoors and hiking opportunities.