Opinion: Commissioner Tootie Smith Wrong To Defy COVID-19 Rules

Commissioner Tootie Smith, please pull the plug on your Thanksgiving gathering! 

I have lived in Clackamas County Oregon for over 40 years. I was shocked and disappointed to read the tweet by Tootie Smith, Clackamas County Commissioner promoting such cavalier opposition to Governor Brown’s recent order to limit people gathering over the upcoming holiday season.

My entire career is in health care, and I cannot understand how we got here. How, in the worst pandemic in 100 years, are we debating the public health recommendations after 250,000 have died in the U.S.? How are we taking the proven science and turning it into a civil liberty debate? I have been thinking about my own experience with public health crises. During my childhood, I watched anxious parents stand in long lines to get polio vaccines to end the national nightmare killing children. As an intensive care nurse in 1979, I cared for young men dying from an unnamed disease. It took years of bipartisan support to find a treatment for HIV/AIDS and launch a public health campaign to educate citizens. 

In the mid 80s, I volunteered for the American Cancer Society as chair of the Smoke Free Class of 2000. I debated tobacco industry representatives opposing proposed legislation to eliminate indoor smoking to reduce lung cancer. Their lobbyists argued against science, using the same false arguments designed to keep Americans smoking for decades. 

The recent COVID-19 debates about masks, social distancing, limiting gatherings reminds me of the massive disinformation campaign funded by the tobacco industry. What I cannot comprehend today is the motivation to discount public health experts at the peril of one’s own community. Why are leaders encouraging citizens to congregate indoors in large numbers to share COVID-19 droplets with each other? 

I greatly mourn the loss of common sources of truth. There is no longer a Walter Cronkite orb of reality that is shared. Our current political climate has resulted in so much disinformation that many Americans don’t believe that COVID-19 is really that dangerous. 

Today, we broke COVID-19 records for the 13th straight day, and thousands are dying unnecessarily again. Millions are filling airports to attend holiday events filled with COVID-19, while Portland hospitals are begging for more nursing staff and building temporary morgues. The Mayo Clinic had 800 hundred staff test positive this week and 92% are from community spread that comes from social gatherings.  

Tootie, you have been a public servant for years. I know you love and care deeply for this community, but I am struggling to understand how your tweet will improve the health of Clackamas County. As you prepare for your Thanksgiving gathering, do you think your family is more important? For the families who have lost loved ones, vulnerable seniors in nursing homes, kids out of school, unemployed Oregonians and families like mine with immunosuppressed members, how should we interpret your actions while we cancel our family gatherings? 

I have not hugged my children and grandchildren since February, and no one has been in my home in 10 months. I follow these guidelines for my family, but I follow them for YOUR family and all the people in Clackamas County. I do this as a wife, a nurse, a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, and as a proud Oregonian because I know we are only as strong as our weakest communicable link. 

As an elected leader, we look to you to set the highest example. National experts have confirmed that simple prevention techniques are more important in reducing deaths than vaccines.

If we do not follow the guidelines over the holidays, we could see another 250, 000 deaths and witness the collapse of our healthcare system. We need courageous, compassionate leaders who can promote these prevention activities and rally the greatest community effort possible to fight this raging disease and rebuild our health and economy together. This work must start in our collective hearts, homes, and neighborhoods. I implore you to do the right thing for your family and the community you serve. Be a role model and cancel your plans. Great leaders can save hundreds of thousands of lives right now and rewrite the history books about how we came together to defeat the 2020 pandemic! 

You can reach Mylia Christensen at [email protected]. A West Linn resident, she has been a critical care nurse, emergency department director, hospital administrator, state of Oregon administrator and a nonprofit executive working to improve the quality and affordability of health care for all Oregonians.


 

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Comments

Thank you so much, Mylia.  We have a responsibility and an obligation to protect not only ourselves, but each other.  The best weapon we have at this point is to follow the well-established public health guidelines.