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COVID-19

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Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: Threats against COVID-19 officials prompt request to block info

June 5, 2022 Updated Mon., June 6, 2022 at 9:08 a.m.

Dr. Umair Shah, the Washington state Secretary of Health, talks with the media after touring the mass vaccination site at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena during a visit in February. Shah revealed some of the threats and vulgar messages he has received during a recent session of the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.  (SSR)
Dr. Umair Shah, the Washington state Secretary of Health, talks with the media after touring the mass vaccination site at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena during a visit in February. Shah revealed some of the threats and vulgar messages he has received during a recent session of the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. (SSR)

State health officials fighting the spread of COVID-19 have been repeatedly threatened over social media by people opposed to restrictions or vaccination requirements.

In a recent session of the state Public Disclosure Commission, Washington Secretary of Health Umair Shah revealed the level of vitriol directed at him by some opponents.

Shah was seeking a waiver of a rule that requires candidates and certain appointed officials – including gubernatorial cabinet members like him – to list their home address along with certain other financial information on documents available to the public.

Before granting the waiver, commissioners wanted to know what sort of threats he had received. In an executive session later released to the public, Shah read from some of the messages in which he’d been called “a monster,” a fraud, an “accessory to murder” and a range of swear words.

“You’ll see justice for what you have done,” he read in another message.

The Board of Health and some other elected officials involved in COVID decisions had been compared to the Gestapo or “communists in office for profit,” he said.

“If you choose to jab our children, there will be an uprising,” said one.

“If you move forward you will have a civil war on your hands,” said another.

“You all will burn in hell,” said a third.

“We the people are taking down names,” warned one. Before one online board meeting, vaccine opponents were urged to record or take screen shots of participants, and then “dox” board members to post information like their home addresses on the internet.

Shah told commissioners he and his staff had also received threatening correspondence from a member of the Legislature last fall with concerns over vaccines. He wouldn’t name the legislator but said he had communicated through the governor’s office that they would not be responding to belligerent communications.

Commissioner William Downey said he thought the threats were “sufficiently specific” for the PDC to grant a waiver of the requirement that Shah list his home address on his disclosure statement.

As a former King County Superior Court judge, Downey said he was familiar with threats from his years on the bench. But what Shah read to the commissioners in the executive session didn’t name anyone and asked if the PDC could post the recording of the session along with the waiver. Shah said he’d been careful not to name names and agreed.

Granting such a request is not so unusual when a candidate or elected official makes a good case. At the same meeting, the PDC had a similar request to block the residential address for Spokane County Commission candidate Christopher Jordan, who has been an assistant attorney general for Child Protective Services for the past six years.

Jordan told the commission he’s in court when CPS asks a judge to remove a child from an unsafe home and cited an example where the father whose child was removed made threats to “kill everyone involved in his case.” Another case involves a father who has committed numerous violent crimes and has been assessed as being a “psychopath needing treatment.”

The PDC granted that request, also.

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