Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest coronavirus-related restrictions announced Sunday roiled a new backlash in Cowlitz County, from local politicians to social media hosts.
Anti-Inslee sentiment appeared to have peaked in the general election, when the victorious governor received about 37% of the Cowlitz County vote, but new active opposition to any pandemic restrictions emerged this week, prompting a strong rebuke from the governor’s office.
One local Facebook group discouraged its followers from reporting businesses that do not comply, and promised to harass individuals who single out violators of the guidelines. And a newly elected legislator vowed to resist the governor’s new rules, announced Sunday as COVID-19 cases soared statewide — and in Cowlitz County.
Cowlitz County News, a local Facebook page with an anti-Olympia following, posted to a public Facebook group Monday urging people to “give these businesses some grace.” The post noted that some local residents have said they would not support stores that do not follow the rules, while others are “actively looking to REPORT businesses or individuals gathering for Thanksgiving.”
“You either support local or you don’t, regardless of that business decision. Trust us as well. If you choose to report a local business we will be doing everything within our ability to ensure we find out EVERYONE who’s made a report and Publicly share that information,” the post said.
A spokesperson with the governor’s office told TDN Monday that the post was “repugnant behavior.”
“People concerned about public health in their communities who have submitted complaints have been harassed in the past and it is never OK,” said Mike Faulk, deputy communications officer for the governor’s office.
He said the state intends to encourage use of the same enforcement mechanisms as were put in place in March, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases.
The governors’ office in March created an online form for people to report businesses that are potentially violating the COVID-19 rules. Those complaints are sent along to the appropriate state regulatory agencies, including but not limited to the Department of Licensing, Labor and Industries, the Department of Health and the Liquor and Cannabis Board.
Complaints against individuals or private gatherings should be recorded with local law enforcement, according to the enforcement guidelines.
Most of those agencies have publicly noted that they will take an education-first approach to inform a business or individual of the rules before issuing any potential fine or punishment.
“We are not going to seek out violations, and we certainly respect people’s private property rights within their own homes,” Cowlitz County Sheriff Brad Thurman said Monday. “There are legal restrictions on what we can do, but if there is an egregious violation or someone being reckless, we will start with an educational role.”
Thurman added that safety often comes down to “personal responsibility and personal choice.”
“You should not associate with people you are not comfortable associating with. … If there are businesses out there that maybe certain employees aren’t following the protocol, if you aren’t comfortable going there, maybe don’t patronize those businesses,” he said.
Bill Josh, one of the administrators of the Facebook page, said the post about sharing information about who made complaint reports was not meant to “specifically target or harass or cause issues for any specific person.” Rather, it was a reminder that any complaint filed through the governor’s office is a public record, subject to public disclosure.
“We are not going to cause harm or consternation for anybody. But it is a public record, and if you choose to create a public record, then there is access to that record,” Josh said. “It doesn’t discourage anybody (from filing a complaint). People are going to do it. In the Woodland Progressives, Democrats and Liberals (Facebook) group, there are people actively encouraging other people to report businesses and individuals.”
Faulk confirmed that COVID-19 complaints filed through the governor’s office are subject to public disclosure and can be requested by any member of the public. However, people can choose to file anonymously.
“There is an option to provide name and contact info but it is only optional, not mandatory,” Faulk said.
Josh claimed he read “thousands of reports” made during the first shutdown in March.
“So many were so frivolous that people were reporting their neighbors and their friends. Other businesses were reporting other businesses, too,” Josh said. “It was absolutely incredible to see some of the petty things people were reporting. I was just flabbergasted.”
“We need to do everything we can to support our local businesses. And yes, people should be following guidelines while they are operating their business, but the fact is this has been extremely, extremely tough on many businesses, and they have a choice to make: Whether or not they go under and cease to exist or whether they can continue to operate under any means possible,” Josh said.
State representative-elect Joel McEntire of the 19th District shared similar views on his Facebook page. He responded to an early leak of the new rules in a post Saturday.
“People better start standing up for themselves. At some point, this ceases to be about safety anymore. The world is a dangerous place and always has been,” he wrote. “Now mindless drone people are just waiting for Inslee to tell them how to live...Well not me. I will be living my life on my terms. What really sucks is that so many of us try to be law abiding citizens, but sometimes the hand of power is in error. I WILL NOT BE COMPLYING.”
McEntire could not be reached for comment ahead of TDN's presstime Monday evening.
Dr. Steve Krager, county deputy health officer, said residents do not have to agree with the governor’s rules to recognize that a “deadly virus is spreading” and we should try to keep our peers safe.
“Even if you think the restrictions are wrong, that doesn’t mean you still can’t act in a safe manner,” Krager said. “You can believe restaurants should be open and retail should not be limited, but it doesn’t change that people are spreading this virus and we need to find ways to limit that."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included a typo for Cowlitz County. This version has been updated.
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