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A large crowd gathered Saturday in downtown Klamath Falls, in defiance of public health orders, to protest state restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The crowd gathered around noon on both sides of Main Street, outside the Klamath County Courthouse, waving signs and flags. Some were decked out in tactical gear with radios and police scanners affixed to their vests. Very few wore masks.

The outdoor gathering of roughly 100 people included Klamath County Commissioner Donnie Boyd, State Rep. E. Werner Reschke and State Sen. Dennis Linthicum. Each spoke at a podium placed on the courthouse steps.

On Monday Boyd explained to the Herald & News why he attended the protest and addressed the crowd. Boyd said he believes that Klamath County government should have control over operations in the county during COVID, instead of the state.

“I think that the government should be issuing guidelines, not trying to enforce laws that don’t exist to begin with and restricting people how many people they can have in their home,” he said Monday.

Boyd said he still believes people should follow public health guidance to protect against the virus.

“I think that people should wear face masks to protect themselves and the people around them out of courtesy, and I think they should practice social distancing and wash their hands,” he said. “But as far as what we can and cannot do in our private homes is wrong.”

When asked why he wasn’t wearing a mask at Saturday’s event, Boyd said “I think that should be the decision of the individual.”

Boyd on Monday also called into question COVID statistics from the Oregon Health Authority, in particular the test positivity rate. The Herald and News reported on Friday a gap in OHA reporting of negative tests that has since been corrected. Boyd called for an audit of the state’s numbers to more accurately reflect the number of negative tests.

The gathering on Saturday took place a day after Klamath recorded 75 COVID cases, a single day high for the county, and as local healthcare workers implored county leaders to take the COVID threat seriously. County and city schools announced that same day that rising case counts meant they would be forced to go back to online-only instruction.

For Boyd, the changing local case counts didn’t change his mind.

“There’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Like I said on Saturday, that’s mixed up,” Boyd said. “If we cannot exercise our own individual liberties, we cannot have life and we cannot pursue happiness.”

Reporter Becca Robbins can be reached at 541-885-4481 or rrobbins@heraldandnews.com.