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As frontline healthcare professionals, we are seriously concerned about the potential impact of the statements released by the Klamath County Commissioners and Sheriff Kaber on Nov. 18.

We understand resistance to regulation by distant authorities, and we agree that local leadership is critical because every community is unique. Further, we agree that the economic and psycho-social impacts of this pandemic on our community are dire and must factor into our community strategy.

We are committed to safely keeping schools and businesses open, and it is imperative that the Oregon Health Authority correct its flawed data collection methods to ensure these decisions are guided by accurate local case positivity rates.

However, by openly rejecting statewide public health measures, our elected officials’ words inadvertently put lives at risk and sow seeds of division when we desperately need unity.

Any increase in COVID-19 cases affects individual lives and harms the economy. This freeze will challenge our businesses, but so would a surge. In a pandemic, public health is economic health — the two cannot be separated.

Notably absent from this press release were comments from local public health officials and medical professionals, which is unacceptable.

Klamath County has been comparatively fortunate thus far in the pandemic with more than 600 cases and 4 deaths, but we cannot afford complacency. This week, our COVID-19 unit has been near capacity and cases are on the rise.

While we appreciate Commissioner Minty Morris’ confidence in our “robust healthcare system,” to believe we are uniquely prepared or protected is dangerous and inaccurate.

Our healthcare system has intentionally planned for a surge, but rural hospitals are incredibly vulnerable due to limited staffing, equipment, and capacity.

As healthcare providers, we dread the possibility of these resources being overextended as they have in so many communities around the world this year. We fear the possibility of running out of beds, ventilators, or staff to care for our community — our healthcare system is still at risk of being overwhelmed.

Commissioners Boyd and DeGroot cite the collateral impacts of shutdowns (domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, economic insecurity) as justification for rebuking the statewide freeze. We see the immense impact this pandemic is having on our patients’ lives daily in the hospital and clinic. We also see patients suffering and fighting for their lives because some in our community are ignoring the mask mandate and physical distancing guidelines.

We are tired of seeing unmasked patrons in the grocery store. We are tired of patients arguing with us about wearing masks in clinic appointments, and we fear that our elected officials’ statements will be interpreted by some as condoning this behavior.

We care deeply about our patients and our local economy. Healing the economy starts with aggressively controlling the spread of COVID-19. It is possible to comply with state measures and support our businesses — order take-out, shop local, and invest in your neighbors’ livelihood.

Finally, Sheriff Kaber’s public refusal to enforce state guidelines illustrates an overt lack of concern for the public safety issues raised by COVID-19. This stance is dismissive of the state leaders and public health experts who are trying to save Oregonians’ lives. It lends credibility to those who mock the common sense preventive measures that have the potential to slow this pandemic. If we all wore masks and physically distanced out of care for our neighbors, there would be no need for mandates, shutdowns, or school closures.

While we respect and appreciate the challenging work that local law enforcement does on a daily basis, it is frustrating that the sheriff’s office is unwilling to partner with us by modeling the attitudes and behaviors necessary to protect our community from this pandemic.

We cannot overstate the importance of life-saving measures such as mask-wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding large gatherings. We implore our elected officials to choose their words carefully and to include subject matter experts — in this case public health officials and medical professionals — when addressing complex issues such as these. While their words were well-intentioned, we fear they will amplify complacency in our community, contributing to more cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Please join us in putting public health above political affiliation or personal convenience. We don’t enjoy wearing masks or avoiding gatherings any more than you do, but this virus has already tragically killed over 250,000 Americans. It’s time we come together to minimize further loss of life from COVID-19.

Christopher Brown, MD

Madeline D. Boyd, MD

Connor Burke, MD

Lindsey Burwell, MD

Natoya Carruthers, PA-C

Brandon Chase, MD

Lily Cranor, MD

Sarah Cook, MD

Alix Cooper, MD

Stewart Decker, MD, FWMS, FAAFP

Ryan Dunkley, MD

German Ferrer, MD

Tracy Graham, MD

Katherine Heinrich, FNP

Jordan Hoese, MD, MPH

Shaleen Holbrook, LPN

Joyce Hollander-Rodriguez, MD

Adria Honda, MD

Aurora Hoyle, FNP-C

Hannah Jantzi, MD

Maria Johnson, MD

Margaret Jolley, MD

Ann Kellogg, DO

Anne Marie Kessler, MD

Joel Klas, MD

Christine Kellstrom Thomas, RN

Coya Lindberg, MD

Katie Martin, MD, MPH

Jean McCalmont, FNP-C

Brian Michaels, PharmD

David Panossian, MD

Kelly Patterson, MD

Lisa Pearson, MD

Matt Peters, MD

Samantha Peters, PA-C

Carrie Pierce, MD

Charlie Price, DO

Cole Puffer, MD

Carly Ritchie, MD

Margo Roemeling, MD

Katie Ruth, MD

Logan Smestad, MD

Danielle Smestad, FNP

Jonathan Spicher, MD

Dallas Swanson, MD

Paul Swenson, MD

Nick West, MD

Jay T. Williams, MD, MS, FACEP

Sarah Williams, MD

Nellie Wirsing, MD

Jennifer Wooley, MD

This letter represents our personal views and does not necessarily represent the official policies, positions, or views of any employer, organization, or company.