LONGVIEW — After nearly five hours of public comment and discussion, the Cowlitz County commissioners Tuesday passed resolutions stating the board won’t require COVID-19 vaccines for certain county employees and warning they may pull funding from entities that require vaccination.
Commissioner Arne Mortensen proposed the two resolutions following residents requesting during the last two meetings that the commissioners take action opposing state mandates requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for health care employees, school staff and state employees.
The first resolution considered states the board will not require any vaccination as a condition of employment for county employees who are hired and managed by the board and its non-elected departments.
Mortensen said the resolution is limited to only some county employees because the board does not have much say over departments, such as the sheriff’s, auditor’s and prosecuting attorney’s offices, that are run separately by elected officials. About 280 full-time equivalent employees fall under departments that report to the commissioners, compared to 210 under departments with separately elected officials, according to the county.
The second resolution states the board “supports citizens’ rights to oppose coerced vaccination in Cowlitz County.” The board, within the limits of its authority, may exclude entities requiring vaccination from receiving county money, the measure states.
Dozens of residents, none wearing face masks, packed the meeting room Tuesday morning and early afternoon. About 30 members of the public commented in favor of the resolutions.
Several people who spoke said they were affected by the governor’s mandates requiring health care workers, state employees and school staff to be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center’s requirement for staff to be vaccinated by Wednesday.
A Kelso woman said she worked at PeaceHealth as a wound care specialist and won’t be allowed in the building as of Wednesday. She encouraged the commissioners to pass the resolutions to stand up for the rights of the residents.
“I feel like when I hear myself say I am losing my job and being forced out of my career for not taking a vaccine for what is functionally a run-of-the-mill respiratory virus should raise alarms,” she said.
COVID-19 seems to cause more serous illnesses in people with underlying conditions, as well as some healthy people, than the flu or other respiratory illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some people infected with COVID-19 have symptoms lasting for weeks or months.
One person attending the meeting virtually spoke out against the proposed measures. He said unvaccinated people are spreading the virus and clogging up hospital beds.
“Passing these resolutions is dangerous, against public decency and good government,” he said.
Cowlitz County Tuesday reported 115 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 8,658 confirmed and 995 probable cases. The county recorded one new COVID-19 death, with 123 total.
As of Tuesday, PeaceHealth St. John had 55 COVID-19 inpatients.
The commissioners unanimously approved the first resolution stating the board won’t require vaccination of county employees.
The second resolution was updated Tuesday to incorporate comments from the Prosecuting Attorney’s office. The largest change was that the board may exclude entities requiring vaccination from receiving county money or terminate current funding “provided that such action is within the limit of the board’s authority and ability to implement this policy in specific instances.”
Commissioner Dennis Weber said the resolution is “overly broad” and that he couldn’t support it.
Mortensen said he would be the first to sign on to a stronger resolution, but he wanted to propose something that was likely to pass.
“On one hand, the government already gets involved with your relationship with your employer. … We don’t have the prospect of changing that,” he said. “The question is, can we get a message from board out that will give more courage that these companies need to implement a policy that is not a mandate? That’s the intent.”
The resolution passed, with Mortensen and Gardner in favor and Weber abstaining.
The Woodland City Council passed a resolution Thursday evening pledging that the city would not require vaccinations for city employees, questioned the constitutionality of the mandates and expressed support for any protests and lawsuits filed in opposition to the requirements.