People gather outside the commissioners meeting room at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles on Tuesday for a public comment session on the recently issued mandate requiring people to be vaccinated for the coronavirus before being allowed to dine or drink indoors at restaurants and bars. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

People gather outside the commissioners meeting room at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles on Tuesday for a public comment session on the recently issued mandate requiring people to be vaccinated for the coronavirus before being allowed to dine or drink indoors at restaurants and bars. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Berry critics pack into board meeting

Most eschew masks, downplay deaths

PORT ANGELES — A quieter version of the anti-Dr. Allison Berry, anti-vaccination-mandate rally on Friday at the Clallam County Courthouse occurred Tuesday during a more than three-hour public comment session in a county commissioners meeting.

Dozens called for Berry’s ouster as health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties and blasted her proof-of-COVID 19-vaccination requirement that went into effect Saturday for indoor patrons of bars and restaurants, an attempt to fight the growing spread of the coronavirus in what Berry has said is a major transmission environment.

Twenty-nine Clallam County residents have died from COVID-19 as of Monday, while 20 are hospitalized and 3,208 have had the virus. Six have died in Jefferson County.

Six died from ages 60s through their 80s in Clallam County since Friday, all unvaccinated except one who had received the first of two doses and another who had active cancer and could not fully respond to the vaccine, Berry said Tuesday in a text message.

Ninety percent of cases occur among unvaccinated individuals, and Clallam has an infection rate of 1,184 per 100,000 population for the past 14 days. Jefferson’s is 485.89 per 100,000, computed from Aug. 22 through Sept. 4.

OMC and Forks Community Hospital are overwhelmed with COVID patients far beyond what is being experienced at Jefferson Healthcare hospital, Berry told Jefferson County commissioners Tuesday.

“Forty percent of our patients over the weekend at OMC were COVID positive,” she said.

“That’s unheard of. We should never have more than 5 percent. It’s stretching us beyond what our medical system has the capacity to respond to.”

Ninety percent of COVID-19 cases occur among unvaccinated individuals, according to the most recent tally by Clallam County public health.

Clallam County commissioners listen to public comment on Tuesday about a public health mandate for Clallam and Jefferson counties requiring business to check for vaccination status of customers for inside dining. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County commissioners listen to public comment on Tuesday about a public health mandate for Clallam and Jefferson counties requiring business to check for vaccination status of customers for inside dining. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Speakers Tuesday said the mandate was unconstitutional, downplayed the number of coronavirus deaths and said they had the right to consume meals and alcohol indoors at area businesses whether vaccinated or not.

One woman challenged Berry on the effectiveness of masks worn by restaurant employees.

Wearing masks reduces the transmission of COVID-19 by 80 percent to 90 percent, Berry responded.

“That’s why we didn’t enforce the vaccine mandate for the workers,” she said.

“When you come into a restaurant to eat and drink, you have to take your mask off. That’s quite a difference there.”

The woman claimed she had 30 pages of documentation that refuted Berry’s statement and demanded documentation.

The 80 to 90 percent is cited by the National Academy of Sciences according to “An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19” (pnas.org).

Protesters gathered outside the commissioners hearing room at the courthouse and were ushered in 10 at a time to make three-minute statements over three hours.

Of the approximately 60 who spoke, more than 50 were against the mandate, called for Berry’s resignation or insisted she be fired by the county board of health.

Mark Ozias, chairman of the county commissioners board, said after the meeting that commissioners have received about 200 emailed comments since the demonstration Friday, which drew hundreds to the courthouse. They flooded into the lobby to rally against the mandate and Berry and were blocked by law enforcement from circulating in the building.

Several wanted to confront Berry directly at a COVID-19 briefing in the commissioners’ hearing room at which she appeared remotely.

Ozias said.Ozias said the emails supporting her were from people who expressly did not want to attend Tuesday’s public comment session over concerns about large numbers of unmasked individuals who would likely attend the meeting.

About a half-dozen speakers during the meeting praised Berry.

“I’m grateful I could take the vaccine,” said one woman.

People gather in front of the Clallam County commissioner’s meeting room on Tuesday to listen to public comment on a mandate requiring businesses to check proof of vaccination for the coronavirus before admitting customers inside for indoor dining or drinking. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

People gather in front of the Clallam County commissioner’s meeting room on Tuesday to listen to public comment on a mandate requiring businesses to check proof of vaccination for the coronavirus before admitting customers inside for indoor dining or drinking. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Ozias began the public comment session by reading a statement of support for Berry from the commissioners and the board of health, on which the commissioners serve, supporting “the efforts that Dr. Berry has made throughout the pandemic to help keep our community safe.”

To maintain social distancing in the hearing room, speakers were ushered in by a law enforcement officer in groups of 10 from a crowd of about 75 to 100 gathered outside the hearing room, many bearing handmade anti-mandate and anti-Berry signs.

The 11 officers in the hearing room outnumbered the commissioners, board staff and those in the audience before residents began entering and making comments to cheers heard from outside the room, where speakers were set up to amplify the proceedings.

By far, most of Berry’s and the mandate’s critics did not wear masks or spoke without their faces being fully covered, ignoring or scoffing at Ozias’ entreaties for them to cover their faces to guard against transmission of the virus.

Those who claimed they had medical exemptions included Anthony Banker of Sequim, where many of the speakers hailed from.

Banker, who, like others, wore a standard “Stop the Mandates 2021” T-shirt, was a prime mover Friday in getting the crowd from the courthouse lawn to inside the building, urging them on with a bullhorn.

Tuesday he admitted he and several other people showed up at what they thought was Berry’s home last week.

He apologized to Berry’s ex-husband, who now lives there, for going to the house. The two are divorced.

“We peacefully visited what we thought to be their shared house,” Banker said.

“We wanted to give them both gift cards to local restaurants and a petition [regarding] a vaccine mandate.

“We were peaceful the whole time.”

Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King said in an earlier interview the group just showing up at what they thought was Berry’s home could be considered concerning. What the group did was not illegal, King said.

He said the department is investigating threatening communications toward Berry, including some that indicate an intent to do her bodily harm. Deputies are patrolling her home as precaution.

Speakers also touted discredited treatments such hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug used to treat river blindness, intestinal roundworm infection, head lice and rosacea in humans and to de-worm pets and livestock.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Friday that clinical trials of the drug are ongoing as a weapon against COVID but that current data does not show it is effective against COVID-19 and warned that taking large doses is dangerous.

“If your health care provider writes you an ivermectin prescription, fill it through a legitimate source such as a pharmacy, and take it exactly as prescribed,” the agency said (fda.gov/consumers).

“Use of animal ivermectin for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in humans is dangerous.”

Berry said Tuesday in a text message that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released an alert that warns of a rise in liver poisoning due to ivermectin’s inappropriate use.

A video of Tuesday’s public comment session is at clallam.net.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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