Commentary: ‘I’m not going to use Clark County Today to be the mask police’


Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance offers his thoughts about the role of the media during the COVID-19 pandemic

In case you didn’t read our story because the facts don’t match your preferred narrative, on Thursday Clark County Public Health officials revealed the results of their analysis of 235 confirmed COVID-19 cases between Sept. 1 and Sept. 21. 

Of particular note to many of you should be the fact that a grand total of two, less than 1 percent, were linked to a public social gathering of more than 50 people. A grand total of three of the 235 cases, just over 1 percent, were linked to a private social gathering of more than 50 people. And, there was no evidence offered which events during that three-week period those five (of 235) cases were linked to.

There are more than a few people who should take note of the information provided yesterday by the Public Health department. In fact, there is virtually a legion of people who were dead wrong in their predictions that two high-profile gatherings held in Clark County during those three weeks would cause a spike in COVID-19 cases.

A little more than 10 years ago, I became the editor of The Reflector Newspaper. A friend of mine, who I was also going to be interacting with in my new capacity, joined me for lunch at the Hockinson Cafe, which unfortunately is one of many popular area restaurants that have closed due to the restrictions placed on in-person dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we were making the short walk back from the cafe to my office, my friend paid me an unexpected compliment. He said that he liked the fact that I was comfortable saying I didn’t know the answer to a question that he posed to me. It obviously had an impact on me, as I can recall the moment vividly these 10 years later. You likely can also deduct from that I’m unaccustomed to, or usually not deserving of, receiving such a compliment. 

I think when we’re young, we’re often too insecure to admit that we don’t have the answer. Or, maybe we’re embarrassed, or maybe we think someone will think less of us. But, as we get older, hopefully we get more comfortable admitting what we know and don’t know.

I want to tell you something today that I don’t know much about, COVID-19. Sure, I think I’m as informed, or likely more informed, than the average citizen. That said, I don’t feel that I truly know anything about COVID-19 with 100 percent certainty.

My life has changed significantly since the beginning of this pandemic. I used to work about half time from home and half in the office. Now, I rarely go into the office. I used to socialize in public, shop for groceries, and interact with others much more often than I do today. So, my contact with others now is pretty minimal. On those occasions when I am in public, I wear a mask. But, I don’t do it because I know for sure that it will prevent me from getting COVID-19 or that it will keep me from spreading it to others. 

Count me in the “it’s better to be safe than sorry’’ group. I think it’s more likely that science is on the side of wearing a mask, than not wearing one. So, there’s that, but I also don’t want to be confronted or ridiculed by someone who doesn’t have the ability to admit what they don’t know. Because, the fact is, none of you can tell me, with 100 percent certainty, that you know for sure one way or another.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told in the last six months what role Clark County Today should play in informing the public about COVID-19. And, the advice or instruction I receive most often is that I should do more to convince people they should wear a mask. That, and that I should report on those who violate the recommendation, or request, to wear a mask. (By the way, this column isn’t going to turn into a Constitutional argument, but I don’t recognize the governor’s order as law, even though I personally choose to obey it. That’s why I intentionally chose the words recommendation or request.)

Let me state it publicly, as clearly as I can state it. I’m not going to use Clark County Today to be the mask police. I’m not going to go out of my way to expose people who choose not to wear a mask and I’m certainly not going to report them. It’s not the role of a news organization to tell citizens how to live their lives. I know many news organizations have given themselves that authority, but I will not. And, I can’t believe any of you actually want to give a news organization that kind of authority.

We received hundreds of comments from readers after we covered the Let Us Worship gathering at the Vancouver Waterfront on Sept. 4. The lead photo of our coverage was one that showed hundreds of Christians with arms raised, worshiping, with no masks. The overwhelming majority of the comments (I stopped tracking after the number of comments sailed past 500) were by folks chastising and shaming those in attendance that they were going to cause a spike in COVID-19 cases in Clark County, prevent our children from returning to school, or worse yet, cause the death of a vulnerable neighbor.

An estimated gathering of about 2,000 attended a Let Us Worship event Sept. 4 at the Vancouver Waterfront. Some of those who attended the event wore a mask, but many did not. Photo by Mike Schultz
An estimated gathering of about 2,000 attended a Let Us Worship event Sept. 4 at the Vancouver Waterfront. Some of those who attended the event wore a mask, but many did not. Photo by Mike Schultz

The same thing happened, to a lesser extent, after our coverage of a Sept. 16 appearance by Republican Gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp at a gathering of about 250 people in Camas. Again, we published photos from the event, showing people not wearing masks. We did nothing to expose anyone and also nothing to protect them. We just reported the news. 

Republican Gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp made an appearance in Camas on Sept. 16. At least two Clark County elected officials were critical of other elected officials who didn’t wear masks during the event. Photo by Mike Schultz
Republican Gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp made an appearance in Camas on Sept. 16. At least two Clark County elected officials were critical of other elected officials who didn’t wear masks during the event. Photo by Mike Schultz

This time, after the Culp event, the outrage included some incredible social media grandstanding by a pair of local elected officials (you might have guessed they were from the opposing party), again predicting gloom and doom while attempting to shame and tarnish the reputations of fellow elected officials who attended the Culp gathering.

But, what those whining, complaining and self aggrandizing elected officials really need to do is admit that they don’t know what the heck they are talking about, as evidenced by the Clark County Public Health analysis. Those elected officials who made the social media posts also need to realize they don’t have the right to tell the rest of us how to live our lives.

On Sunday, Clark County Today will celebrate the 4th anniversary of its launch. This news organization wasn’t founded to be just like other news organizations. It was created to do things different, to do things better. I believe this column represents that effort to be different, to be better. 

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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