Joe Kent promotes another rally to end COVID-19 mandates

People rallied Friday outside the Clark County Public Service Center in downtown Vancouver in an organized effort supported by Yacolt Republican Joe Kent to oppose local COVID-19 mandates.

Kent promoted the demonstration Wednesday in a segment of War Room with former political strategist and right-wing nationalist Steve Bannon. Organizers presented a petition with over 12,000 signatures to end county COVID-19 mandates and demanded action from the Clark County Council.

“This is where these counties and these towns can protect from tyranny from (Gov.) Jay Inslee and (President) Joe Biden,” Kent said during the interview.

This isn’t the first time Kent urged his followers to protest vaccine and mask mandates on the basis that they thwart American freedoms. Many of the talking points are similar to the ones presented at the state Capitol in early January.

Activists stood outside the Department of Health offices in Olympia for more than six hours in opposition of an item on the state’s Board of Health agenda. Kent and his supporters claimed the board was presenting a measure that would gather unvaccinated people and force them into quarantine. However, this was an unsubstantiated claim and deviated from the truth.

According to reporting by The Seattle Times, the item under discussion was an update to state codes to reflect House Bill 1551, a move to modernize the state’s control of communicable disease laws.

The law allows public health officers to investigate a person if there is reason to believe they have a harmful and potentially fatal sexually transmitted disease and are knowingly endangering others. An official can order mandatory medical testing and restrict certain behaviors if the allegations are founded.

Confusion and misinterpretation of the presented measure led to activists believing forced quarantines were imminent. Health board staff received more than 30,000 emails, and hundreds of calls and requests from 8,000 people to testify at the board’s virtual meeting. Some of the messages were threats to staff.

Kent said the board changed its plans from public pressure and outcry, but this was not the case. Rather, public officials issued a statement to clarify its agenda amid the cycle of misinformation.

Protestors also pointed to the state’s technical advisory group’s research into whether a COVID-19 vaccine would meet all nine scientific criteria needed to be added to the list of require K-12 immunizations.

Since then, Kent hasn’t corrected his prior claims and continues to support them in speeches directed to his supporters. Conversely, he often refers to the state health board as the “gestapo” or references the falsely rumored forced quarantines as “gulags.”

His opinions are not unique from the chorus of multiple Republican congressional candidates, conservative radio personalities and anti-vaccine activists who spread COVID-19 misinformation.

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker is a politics reporter for The Columbian.

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