Washington sheriff contracts COVID-19, still plans to fight mandates

GOLDENDALE, Wash. (AP) — A Southwest Washington state sheriff who has been especially vocal in his opposition to pandemic restrictions recently contracted COVID-19, was hospitalized and is relying on oxygen.

The experience hasn’t changed Sheriff Bob Songer’s stance, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. He said this week that he doesn’t know how he caught the coronavirus, but in late July he experienced symptoms including a headache, runny nose and difficulty breathing.

His diagnosis led to a five-day hospital stint. Songer, 76, said he’s back home now and using oxygen.

Songer chalked up his oxygen use to an array of lung issues, including chronic pulmonary issues and being a smoker for 50 years — not solely to COVID-19.

Songer said when he returns to work he will continue to challenge pandemic restrictions that he calls government overreach.

“Bottom line is: I beat it. And I did it without taking vaccinations, without getting my shot, without none of that nonsense,” he said. “And that’s my decision. I make that decision. Not the government.”

Washington State Hospital Association CEO Cassie Sauer said during a news conference on Thursday that unvaccinated people were filling hospitals throughout the state and officials have been forced to make hard decisions about how to keep beds free.

People who say no to the vaccine are not saying no to medical care once they get sick, which is “deeply frustrating” to hospital staff, Sauer said.

Songer, elected in 2014, has frequently criticized and insulted Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and public health mandates like social distancing and masks, which have been shown to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The self-described constitutional sheriff, a group of law enforcement officers who believe local authority supersedes federal and state authority, also promised in June to arrest any government official who tried to enforce new health mandates.

He said he had the support of many but his comments prompted pushback from county officials including those in public health who said they felt unnerved and adjusted some staff duties for safety reasons.

Klickitat County’s Board of County Commissioners criticized Songer’s statements in a letter, writing that they respected the sheriff but called his statement threatening and intimidating, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported in June.

Songer couldn’t say this week if he infected anyone else including colleagues at the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office.

There are currently no outbreaks at any county department, according to Klickitat County Public Health.

Still, August is on track to become the second-worst month of the pandemic in the county, officials said. Klickitat County, located in the Columbia River gorge, has a population of about 22,000.

READ: Washington hospitals see record number of COVID-19 patients