Signs are prominently posted outside the Baker County Courthouse stating that face masks are required inside.
Yet on Wednesday morning, Dec. 15, of the 30 or so people gathered in a room in the Courthouse for a county commission meeting, just a couple were wearing masks.
The three commissioners — Bill Harvey, Mark Bennett and Bruce Nichols — were not.
A similar situation prevailed the night before at Baker City Hall, although the audience there was smaller and a few more people were wearing masks.
Neither Mayor Kerry McQuisten nor Councilors Shane Alderson, Joanna Dixon, Heather Sells, Jason Spriet and Johnny Waggoner Sr. was wearing a mask.
The lack of compliance with the statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces has been common throughout the fall in both of these venues and others. Mask compliance at the Baker High School gym has been spotty during basketball games.
Our elected officials should comply with the mask requirement, and ask that their audiences do the same, so long as those signs are posted.
To do otherwise is to imply that adherence to rules — any rule — is optional.
A dramatic contrast to the aforementioned examples is the Baker County Health Department, where staff and visitors — many of whom are, wisely, there to get a COVID-19 vaccine — wear masks.
That said, it is reasonable to ask whether the mask mandate, which Gov. Kate Brown imposed in August and which has been challenged but not legally overturned, is justified at this point in the pandemic.
Masks, and particularly the disposable type that most people wear, are hardly impermeable barriers. But they certainly don’t hurt. And they can in some circumstances reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. Students and staff in Baker schools wear masks, and despite the somewhat confined conditions inside schools, there have been relatively few cases, and no evidence that the virus has spread in schools.
Yet even with the lackadaisical attitude toward mask wearing in some settings, there is no evidence, based on Oregon Health Authority data, that this has led to any outbreaks in Baker County. Case numbers in the county have been trending down since October.
The pandemic is not over, to be sure. Three more county residents have died this month after testing positive. Vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself — and, potentially, others — both from infection and, even more so, from severe sickness. And although 307 people received a booster dose during a three-day drive-thru clinic earlier this week in Baker City, the county’s overall vaccination remains poor, lower than all but four of Oregon’s 35 other counties.
Brown needs to carefully review the data, including taking into consideration the low mask compliance in places such as Baker County and the absence of a causal link to outbreaks in those places. The statistics might well show that continuing the mask mandate is no longer justified as a measure to thwart the virus.
But for now, the blatant contradiction between what the signs outside buildings state, and what’s actually going on inside some of those buildings, is insulting to people who believe that one trait of a responsible citizen is to comply with regulations that are not onerous and have not been legally invalidated.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor