Demonstrators in Pasco on Tuesday heckled Gov. Jay Inslee during an outdoor news conference, forcing the governor to move to an indoor space as he tried to speak on Washington’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Inslee’s visit to Columbia Basin College comes as Central Washington has become a hot spot for COVID-19. As of Sunday night, Franklin County — where Pasco is located — had reported 1,610 confirmed cases of the virus, according to the state Department of Health.
Nearby Yakima County trails only King County in overall COVID-19 cases in the state, even as it has only a fraction of the population. Benton County has also seen an increase in cases.
At Tuesday’s news conference, demonstrators loudly peppered Inslee — who last week announced a statewide requirement to wear masks in public — with questions and remarks as he spoke at a lectern set up outside a college building.
TV coverage of the scene showed perhaps a few dozen protesters. But only a handful of them were shouting at the governor, according to Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk.
“The few individuals shouting expletives and conspiracies at both the governor and the media were asked repeatedly to be respectful of everyone’s time,” he wrote in an email. But, “They chose to continue shouting expletives and conspiracies.”
One woman shouted, “You’re taking away our freedoms,” as Inslee discussed how wearing masks would help prevent the spread of the virus and make it safer for businesses to reopen.
After repeated shouted remarks, the governor moved the news conference indoors to finish his remarks and take questions from reporters there.
“When we hold a media event in a public space, anyone is welcome to listen,” Faulk wrote in an email after the news conference ended. “Unfortunately, several individuals chose to drown out the news conference for the media and the rest of the public in attendance, which included non-disruptive protesters who may disagree with the governor but still wanted to hear him speak.”
Inslee’s order on masks — like other pieces of the governor’s emergency orders to tamp down the virus — has been met with derision by some. Last week, the Lewis County sheriff advised residents to “don’t be a sheep” when it came to following the mask requirement. He later issued a statement softening his views on mask wearing.