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Kelley Minty Morris


The role of a county commissioner is to work for every citizen of Klamath. In this county, most of us appreciate the diversity of opinion, our individualism, and yet our commitment to community. I proudly work for the citizens of Klamath County.

You don’t need commissioners, or a governor, to give you health advice. You need medical professionals and public health professionals. They are clear in their guidance. We are listening.

This is a tough year, and this is a tough time during that tough year. Recently, when I made the argument it would be better if we could locally navigate COVID-19 instead of getting multiple mandates from Salem and cited our capable and robust health care system, I meant it.

We have been working through COVID-19 since March, and we’ve been able to navigate it expertly. When I say “we,” I mean our health care system, public health, the county and all of you. We have all sacrificed, learned and worked through the ups-and-downs. We always knew we could hit a surge point, where the growth of cases started to overwhelm our resources. It had not happened. Health care professionals say it could be happening now. We are listening.

Our cases are increasing. Our case counts are higher than they have been since this whole thing started. That is nothing to panic about, but we do need to do what we each can to help reduce them. I want our businesses to re-open fully, and stay open. And my heart is breaking over schools continuing to be closed, despite the CDC recommending in-person schooling. I want to see all our kids in school, all day, every day. Our schools will not open until our case counts decrease. Whether we wish that to be true or not, it is the reality that the state has tied school opening to those metrics. Let us each do what we can to help our kids and families.

In response to the governor’s “freeze,” the Board of Commissioners expressed concerns over the collateral damages to our businesses and community, while questioning the “one size fits all of Oregon” approach. Later, the governor herself, in her most recent news conference, in response to a Portland-based reporter asking her why she did not further shut down the state in light of the spike in cases, said “we can’t use a one size fits all approach in Oregon.” Bingo!

To illustrate: Because I serve as liaison to public health and have communicated with them daily since March, I can tell you this with certainty: restaurants and gyms are not responsible for COVID-19 spread in Klamath County. Forcing them to close, again, risking they will never reopen, is not a good trade off in my opinion, when they are not the culprit. The largest cause of spread in this community is, unarguably: social and family gatherings. The governor has acknowledged she knows that, but since she can’t control those, the “lever” she does have is restaurants, gyms and schools.

Not only is that unfair, it does not help us actually control COVID-19. The more the governor restricts humans, who are social creatures, from heavily-regulated and safe restaurants, gyms and schools, the more they end up in social gatherings, which are the real problem. The board arguing for more local control, or for using a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer for policymaking around this, is absolutely the right call — even if right after we did that our cases spiked. Timing was not a friend to us, and that is OK. We are more concerned about the community than being caught up in a case of bad timing.

Much has been made of the sheriff saying he “won’t enforce it.” I do not speak for him, but it’s my understanding he was stating he wasn’t going to be sending deputies, of which we often have just three or four for the entire county on any given evening, to break up Thanksgiving dinners. That is a completely reasonable perspective, to think he would be an “enforcer” on that is not practical, and is borderline silly.

Some push back I’ve heard is “if only the Commissioners would say, ‘wear a mask,’ everything would be perfect and open and school would be in session.” That is not true. We know a very prominent elected official, the governor, makes the pitch for masks almost daily, and yet Multnomah County (Portland) continues to be in much worse shape than anywhere else — more locked down than any other county. It is not simple.

Other than our leaders at public health, who put out a news release every day with reminders of the guidelines and the case counts, there is no one in this community that has done more to communicate during this pandemic than the Board of Commissioners. From videos, social media posts and PSAs, the board has responsibly communicated as this unfolded. Under the leadership of the board, the county has also provided thousands of free masks to citizens. As I’ve shared with our public health leadership in working closely with them and supporting their difficult work, our communication should always involve the Three Ts: be transparent, timely and truthful. I welcome the medical community stepping in to share with us all what is transpiring here, as it happens, keeping us updated so we can all make good choices.

Please, let us quit fighting among ourselves, focus on getting our case counts down so we can get our businesses fully open and school in session. Do your part and I will do mine. Make the adjustments that make sense for you and your family. I do not need to tell you what to do, you already know, and I trust you.

— Kelley Minty Morris is a Klamath County Commissioner.