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DALLAS — As of Friday, masks are required at outdoor gatherings, a new statewide mandate in response to the increased spread of COVID-19 due to the more contagious delta variant.

Gov. Kate Brown announced the new rule on Aug. 24. It applies to everyone age 5 and older, regardless of vaccination status.

“The delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic,” Brown said in the Aug. 24 announcement. “Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high.”

However, Polk County Sheriff Mark Garton said decisions such as mask requirements should be left to local leaders to implement. He expressed his concerns in a letter posted on the his office’s Facebook page.

“I believe in local control, as we are most familiar with the needs and desires of our own community at the local level,” he wrote in the letter. “The state and federal government have more of a one size fits all approach that does not always work for every community, nor is it necessary in every community. What works in Polk County may not be what’s best for Multnomah County, Benton County, Marion County and vice versa.”

He added that what he believed as state authority overreach is a threat to the Constitution and our representative government.

“I am not a doctor, scientist or lawyer,” Garton said. “I am not going to debate whether you should or should not wear a mask or get a vaccine. My expertise is in law enforcement, not public health. I don’t see a need to reiterate statistics pushing one side or another. The bottom line is, I believe medical freedom is a fundemental right.

“I trust people’s ability to make their own informed medical decisions,” Garton continued. “Even if I personally would make a different decision, I respect everyone’s ability and right to decide for themselves, and I believe these decisions should be free of reprisal.”

Garton said he believed the community will get through the pandemic best by working together.

“I believe we can eradicate this pandemic with a combination of local control, science, medicine, and common sense,” he wrote. “Inherently, the citizens of Polk County are kind and compassionate people. We all want to do what is best for the health and well-being of our fellow citizens and this country.”

Garton said he will continue to uphold the Constitutions of the United States and the state of Oregon.

“I will continue serving my community with integrity and protect the rights, freedom, and liberty of the citizens I serve, Garton wrote.

To read Garton’s full letter, go to Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook.

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