It turns out the plan to cure Covid-19 in Lincoln County is to herd cats.
Anybody hoping for more than that should watch the recent emergency meeting between county commissioners and elected elders from six cities — Newport, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Toledo, Siletz and Waldport. VIDEOOn second thought, just listen to the audio version — seeing hollow-eyed local officials leaning into their basement computer screens might trigger a rally to throw open the barber shops and beauty parlors, dangerous thinking these days.
Deep into a statewide lockdown, commissioners convened the joint session to double-down on the decision to close hotels and vacation rentals, extending their decree to May 31 and possibly longer. The edict exceeded even Gov. Kate Brown’s sweeping shutdown of everything else, except pot shops, liquor stores and any business with an Oregon Lotto decal on the window.
County commissioners — the triumvirate of Hall, Hunt and Jacobson — have made it clear they are in charge of this calamity, issuing mandatory edicts, dire warnings and helpful news releases including the welcome bulletin, “Handwashing Songs,” with 20-second ditties by Pink Floyd and Prince.
Summoning the mayors and city councilors for a straw poll was a sort of blood pact to put everybody’s finger on the trigger, however.
“This is like herding cats,” complained Commission Chairman Kaety Jacobson as she tried to conduct a roll call with dozens of local leaders over a scratchy voice connection that sounded like a cockpit recording.
It was the kind of lofty observation you’d expect from high-on-up, where bureaucratic mandarins are using the emergency to remind us of our failings, such as bigotry. The county’s Covid-19 website, for example, notes how “communities of color,” jammed as they are into public housing with jobs they can’t do at home, suffer disproportionately from the pandemic. “Covid-19 has compounded the ongoing burden of living in a racist society,” the document intones, citing another small hurdle to clear before we get our lives back.
Moreover, it was an unfitting comment. Unlike cats, the mayors and their retinues were docile, obedient and eager to fall in line. Nobody questioned the science behind the decision or the flimsy progress made since March 15, even when the county health director didn’t know how many tests had been conducted — the Holy Grail of government benchmarks.
Typically-combative Mayor Dick Anderson of Lincoln City joked with Commission Chair Kaety Jacobson before jumping aboard. Robert Gambino of Depoe Bay, whose city budget has been shredded by the loss of room taxes, said he was “in favor” of keeping the doors closed until “treatment is in place.” Attorney David Allen, a Newport city councilor, barely slowed the momentum with “procedural” concerns. Frail murmurings about ending the lockdown were quickly dismissed like crank calls.
The ground is shifting daily on what we know about Covid-19, but our local governments, led by the county commission, appear locked into an outmoded response. Despite a month-long windup to assure businesses and workers they would have a plan to get the economy on its feet, widespread testing is non-existent, basic retail/business protocols are a mystery, contact tracing is insufficient and there is no word yet on PPE stockpiles — all requirements to reopen business and return to a normal existence.
The platitudes expressed by local leaders who claim to feel the pain of Lincoln County’s private sector ring hollow without assurances to workers and businesses they can begin their recovery on May 31, rather than the amorphous reopening strategy that has been described by Commissioner Claire Hall as “the slow turning-up of a dial.”
But then, it’s hard to herd cats.