ENUMCLAW, Wash — Enumclaw City Council will return to its early COVID-19 pandemic-style meetings following criticism of hosting in-person meetings without social distancing or masking.
The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11. The mayor and a few council members and staff will be on site. Other council members and the public can dial in or join the meeting with video on Microsoft Teams.
City Councilmembers Anthony Wright and Beau Chevassus spoke to KING 5 about the recent comments they made about Washington state and King County's COVID-19 vaccine verification mandate.
The council members' comments and others' were included in a news article and Op-Ed piece by local news organizations following a Sept. 13 council meeting where social distancing was not in place and one out of 10 people, sitting on a dais, was wearing a mask.
Wright, Enumclaw's Position 6 council member, said he feels comfortable sitting with his fellow council members and city staff. Wright said he is vaccinated against COVID-19 and said several council members are as well.
"I don’t believe that we weren’t wearing masks because of malicious intent or protest or trying to go against the governor’s mandate," said Wright. "When it comes to trusting my fellow council members, it’s easy for me because I know how they operate. I know if one of them got sick or if they had COVID, they would go get tested. It makes it easier for us to know that we are walking into a safe environment."
Calling King County's vaccine verifications 'stupid'
Wright said he wants to know what the "exit strategy" will be to end King County's upcoming health order requiring COVID-19 vaccine verification.
Starting Oct. 25, proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test will be required in King County for outdoor events with 500 or more people and indoor establishments such as museums, theaters, gyms, restaurants and bars.
According to the King County website, there is no definite end date. The policy will be reviewed six months after it begins.
"We expect this to go six months, and we may extend it, but there’s no exit criteria,” said Wright. “There’s no milestone. There’s no goal. There’s no metrics set by the county to achieve the ability to take away the vaccine verification. So, for all we know, it could be extended indefinitely. Those are the reasons why I basically said I thought it was stupid because I don’t believe we should make a policy for the sake of making a policy when it doesn’t seem like it’s well thought out.”
Wright said King County’s vaccine verification will hurt small businesses, especially those already struggling through the pandemic in Enumclaw.
"We don’t want to go back to the capacity restrictions we had prior to the state reopening," said Wright. "But we can go ahead and do three Mariners games, sold-out crowds back to back, no vaccine verification. They basically just had to wear masks. They didn’t have to provide test results which are going to be required in three weeks from now.”
Gov. Jay Inslee's press secretary and deputy communications director, Mike Faulk, said the comments made by council members are "remarkably sad."
In a statement to KING 5, Faulk said, "It is remarkably sad when we hear stories about local leaders who do not appreciate the threat to people’s well-being posed by COVID. We know masks work, and we know vaccines are safe and effective. Time and again, in some of our communities and around the country, we have seen the deadly consequences of ignoring these truths."
Enumclaw's COVID-19 statistics
Since the start of the pandemic, Enumclaw has recorded 33 COVID-related deaths and a total of 1,711 positive cases, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County.
In the most recent two-week period between Sept. 19 and Oct. 3, Enumclaw recorded 133 positive coronavirus cases, which according to the health department, makes it the highest rate in all of King County. No deaths were recorded during these two weeks.
Currently, Enumclaw's rate for full vaccination is 59.5% for eligible residents ages 12 and up. This rate includes all areas in the 98022 zip code, which has a population of 20,339. Out of the total population, 12,111 residents are fully vaccinated.
In a Facebook video response, Position 2 Councilmember Chevassus said he "believes in science," being a champion of liberty and protecting the vulnerable.
"I feel it is unfair to obligate the non-vulnerable to comply with the same restrictions," said Chevassus.
Chevassus said he is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and believes in the science behind vaccines and encourages people to get them.
In his video, he shared that he contracted the virus back in January. Later, he got his vaccination and developed a reaction, causing him to be admitted to the St. Elizabeth emergency room. Chevassus said the reaction made him experience "some of the most excruciating pain" in his life.
Chevassus said when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines, there is "deceptive marketing" by health departments and state leaders.
"The vaccine was being heralded as the savior of the world, and I looked up the numbers, and I saw thousands upon thousands of people getting this vaccine, keeping them out of the hospital, and it still does, and it works," Chevassus said in the video. "I was like, well, I’ve seen the evidence. I am evidence-based. I’ll get my vaccine. Then 'bam.' I had this horrible reaction. They work, but my point is preventative efforts may work for some people, and they do. Yet, it also doesn’t work for others."
Watch Councilmember Chevassus' full Facebook video response below.