Julie McDonald Commentary: Pandemic Poses Sticky Questions of Mandates, Jobs and Public Health


No doubt about it, we’re living through a confusing, uncertain and rancorous time — in large part because of the coronavirus pandemic and attempts to curtail its spread.

Take, for example, the proposed vaccine mandates. Democrat President Joe Biden announced mandates requiring up to 100 million Americans to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine or lose their jobs. Republicans immediately screamed about unconstitutional federal intrusion and unlawful government overreach. Under the mandate, private companies employing 100 or more people must require workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. If they don’t, the companies will face hefty fines.

The pandemic pitting public health against private rights turned political, and so did the masks and vaccines designed to curtail the spread of the virus.

Do I favor federal government mandates? No, not really, although we comply with federal regulations all the time that protect worker safety, civil rights and the purity of water, air and land.

Do I want to see the coronavirus pandemic curtailed? Yes.

Ideally, our communities would band together as they did after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to fight a common enemy — a coronavirus this time instead of terrorists.

Instead, the nation has seared apart along political lines with many Democrats in favor of mask and vaccine mandates and many Republicans opposing them.

While I understand the arguments on both sides, I tend to favor protecting life — all life, including the unborn, people with compromised immune systems and senior citizens.

The issue is how we go about protecting life and livelihoods.

In addition to the expanded federal mandates, Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee has decreed that all state workers and public and private school employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or obtain a religious or medical exemption by Oct. 18. If they don’t, employees will lose their jobs.

Do I favor state government mandates? Not really, but again, we comply with them every day — speed limits, smoking prohibitions and seatbelt and helmet laws among others.

Do I want to see the coronavirus pandemic curtailed? Yes.

The Washington Federation of State Employees has negotiated terms for the governor’s mandate that affect its 46,000 union members.

By last week, almost 5,000 employees, or 8 percent of the state’s 60,000 employees, had requested medical or religious exemptions from the mandate.

I understand concerns about the coronavirus vaccines. Some question their efficacy. Like others, I’ve seen breakthrough cases. Others point to severe reactions to the vaccine, including, in rare cases, death.

Is it better to receive the vaccine or take a chance on surviving the coronavirus? It’s an individual choice, although because of government mandates—and some private employers’ rules — workers must choose between taking a shot or losing a job.

Dictating shots doesn’t seem right. But is it necessary? Some think so to curb the spread of a highly infectious and deadly disease.

The Constitution gives government police powers to protect public health and safety, while the 14th Amendment prevents it from infringing on citizens’ privileges without due process. It’s a balancing act.

When I enrolled my children in school, I had to show proof of their vaccination against chickenpox, polio, hepatitis B, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, and measles, mumps and rubella. I wanted my children safe from those ailments, so I had them vaccinated as recommended by our pediatricians.

I felt it was the responsible decision to make for the health of my children and the community.

It’s the same reason I wear a mask — not only to protect myself but to avoid spreading the virus to others, especially vulnerable people with compromised immune systems, and to do my part to help businesses remain open and the community to thrive despite the pandemic.

And I pray.

On Friday, Providence Centralia and St. Peter Hospitals reported the highest one-day death toll from COVID-19, when 10 people perished from ailments related to the infection. Nationally, we’ve seen 670,027 deaths related to COVID-19 — as of Sept. 15, one out of every 500 Americans has died from coronavirus since the pandemic began.

I’ve been praying every week for people I know who are struggling to survive coronavirus, among them Lewis County Commissioner Gary Stamper, who has been in the PeaceHealth Intensive Care Unit in Vancouver since Aug. 31. I also pray for friends who have lost loved ones.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, it’s nice to see a return to a semblance of normalcy.

After 18 months, I dusted off my dumbbells to exercise with my former Toledo Senior Center aerobics class — but with senior centers still closed, we met at the Cowlitz Prairie Grange. We have a new instructor because Pam Cole, of Ethel, retired after three decades of teaching exercise classes.

We faced another change: proof of vaccination. Although we can still spread COVID-19, vaccination reduces risks significantly, which is especially good since it’s hard to exercise while wearing a mask.

A week ago, reconnecting with writers at the Southwest Washington Writers Conference proved fun and inspiring, especially since I hadn’t seen many of them in person since Feb. 22, 2020, when the Oregon Christian Writers held a one-day conference in Salem.

And on Wednesday, the St. Helens Club launched its new year by meeting in person at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Chehalis. We all wore masks and spaced our chairs a bit, and it was great to see everyone again.

As we navigate these uncharted waters, we’ll soon need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to watch a Seahawks game in person, attend a music concert or enter a bar or restaurant in Seattle under a King County decree that takes effect Oct. 25. We also may find small businesses that don’t require vaccines or even enforce the state’s mask mandates.

It’ll be up to individuals to determine the level of risk they’re willing to accept — and spend their money where they feel most comfortable.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.