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Vaccine misinformation flows at Josephine County Board of Commissioners meeting

Leaders repeatedly rebuffed health experts on COVID-19 facts, figures and findings.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A group of health experts and doctors briefed the Josephine County Board of Commissioners earlier this week on the latest COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but were repeatedly interrupted and rebuffed by the three commissioners.

Doctors told the board Josephine County's low vaccination rate is what's causing the surge of cases in the county. The county's ICU beds are , putting a strain on the Asante Three Rivers Medical Center staff. 

After hearing about the latest case numbers, Herman Baertschiger, Oregon's former Senate Republican leader and now a Josephine County commissioner, told health officials the increase is likely due to migrant and farm workers, a claim repeatedly debunked by medical experts. 

"We know we've been making cannabis raids, finding a high amount of, I guess you could consider them farm workers or immigrant workers... they're non-speaking [sic] workers that are working in these growth sites ... 95% do not speak English, or at least they say they don't speak English, and they do not have identification. If you look at the statistics of people coming over the southern border, anywhere from 25 to 50% have COVID," Baertschiger said.

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Health experts have said that while some people who are crossing the border may have COVID-19, that's not what's overwhelming hospitals across the country.

"In some states, it isn't clear that there is very much migration right now at all, although there are big outbreaks," Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University School of Medicine, told Noticias Telemundo. "As far as I know, the migration patterns in the past month are more north than south. That does not correlate at all."

Jefferson Public Radio reporter April Ehrlich covered the meeting. She said it echoes a general feeling of being wary of government regulation. 

"They oppose any sort of regulation on what they consider to be their personal freedoms. They think wearing face masks and getting a vaccine and having to close certain businesses during a pandemic infringes on their personal freedoms," Ehrlich said. "In addition to that, there was a degree of skepticism that the commissioners had during the meeting about whether or not these health practices the workers were saying were effective, whether they actually were effective. For instance, Herman Baertschiger brought this up. Over the weekend, two people died from coronavirus. One was vaccinated, one was unvaccinated. And he said, 'In my eyes, that's 50/50, so what's the point of getting the vaccine?' The health workers came out and said, 'Well, actually, if you look at the numbers, about 95% of everybody who's died was unvaccinated."

The morgue in Grants Pass said it is full from a surge in COVID-19 deaths, and they're planning to order refrigeration trucks to park outside for the overflow of bodies. 

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