Enumclaw council must accept pandemic reality

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Paul Tong / Op-Art

With ski season just around the corner, Seattleites planning to ply the slopes of Crystal Mountain might want to plan their journeys carefully. Enumclaw, a city of 12,000 that is for many others the “gateway to Mount Rainier,” might be a risky place for a rest stop or refreshments. 

The south King County city is not just a hot spot for the region’s COVID-19 spread. County health officials have confirmed 1,560 infections there — about one in seven Enumclaw residents. That places its infection rate at nearly 175% of the state’s 7.5%. The city also is led by a cadre of officials who show a shocking ignorance about basic pandemic safety measures, and show it in defiance of both state policy and common sense. This is no way to help a hard-hit community.

After 18 months of government agencies at every level grappling with the pandemic, protocols are well-established to keep public meetings both safe and accessible. Congress, the Legislature, the King County Metropolitan Council and a host of city councils have met remotely, and maintained distancing measures when in person. Yet Enumclaw’s council has shrugged off all this. Since June, city officials have been meeting nearly shoulder-to-shoulder and mostly maskless while community members filled chairs a few yards away.

State Secretary of Health Umair Shah ordered that masks be used for public events Aug. 23. The council has since convened twice without modifying protocols. Asked about this egregious behavior by the local Courier-Herald newspaper, members groused about protective measures.

Council member Beau Chevassus, a filmmaker whose résumé lists no medical training, told the newspaper he “cannot help but question the alleged lifesaving power of a paper mask” and attacked the “troubling draconian mandates” of the pandemic. Mayor Jan Molinaro double-talked about “mixed messages” and the need for an “uplifting attitude.” Neither responded to a request to speak to this editorial board.

COVID-19 sickens and kills, particularly among the unvaccinated. Enumclaw has no city employee vaccine requirement. Several members agreed after council member Anthony Wright called a theoretical mandate “stupid” in a Sept. 13 meeting. This makes mask-wearing particularly important, despite the unwillingness in Enumclaw government to acknowledge this.

The directive to mask up — particularly if among the unvaccinated — isn’t simply guessing at what will help. Results unveiled in September from a scientific study of mask-wearing among 350,000 people in Bangladesh provide irrefutable evidence this simple measure helps limit COVID-19. Closer to home in Kittitas County, an early-fall experiment with masklessness in schools led to an outbreak and a quick policy reversal.

Enumclaw isn’t an island in the pandemic or otherwise. This important King County city ought to take seriously the mission of protecting citizens from COVID-19. That means stepping up safety measures and setting a better example for the constituents who trust their leadership.

The Seattle Times editorial board: members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Luis Carrasco, Alex Fryer, Jennifer Hemmingsen, Mark Higgins, Derrick Nunnally and William K. Blethen (emeritus).