Moose Lodge subject of COVID controversy

(Photo by Cheri Brubaker)

WALDPORT — While it’s not clear if cases are directly linked to the event, several attendees of a meeting held at the Waldport Moose Lodge earlier this month have tested positive for COVID-19.

On Saturday, TiAnna Rios reported in the Waldport Community Facebook group that she’d tested positive for COVID, and her daughter also had the virus. Rios, a Waldport Women of the Moose member, said she’d been at a district-wide meeting of the Oregon Moose Association held at the Waldport Lodge Nov. 7, and two other attendees tested positive. She wrote, “I was there for just a few minutes — too many people for my liking — perhaps 65 or more people from all over Oregon.” She was sharing the information publicly, she wrote in the now-deleted post, “because these visitors spent the night in hotels in the area and frequented businesses.”

The message was a source of substantial upset in the small community, prompting a post from the Waldport Women of the Moose senior regent, who was also in attendance and said she thought the lodge followed proper protocols. She said she’s tested negative after isolating for several days upon learning that some attendees tested positive. Enough people contacted Waldport Mayor Sue Woodruff that she followed with her own message in the group, saying the city was aware of the post, had contacted public health and would share information as they received it.

Jim Sehl, the Waldport Lodge administrator, told the News-Times he didn’t think any of the attendees Nov. 7 were overnight guests in the county — he knew most of them, he said, and he’d wished them safe drives home. The meeting lasted about an hour and a half and was over by 2:30 p.m., Sehl said. He was present from prior to the meeting until hours after, and said he made sure attendance did not exceed 50. 

A Lincoln County Public Health spokesperson said the Moose Lodge, as an event venue, was at that time limited to a capacity of 100.

Sehl shared with the News-Times a spreadsheet of those who signed in for the meeting Nov. 7, created by the district from the meeting sign-in sheet. Forty-seven names are listed — from La Pine, Bend, Junction City, Oakridge, Redmond, Springfield, St. Helens and Waldport. He said at least three of those people left shortly after signing in.

Those attendees were in an 1,800-square-foot-area dining room, which was partitioned from the area where the lodge was serving its regular meal. Sehl said he believed most of those who received meals were lodge members entering through a separate door and not meeting attendees, and less than 25 total meals were served.

Sehl learned from the state association on Nov. 16 that two meeting attendees from La Pine tested positive, and within one hour contacted all of the local officers, telling them to make sure anyone who’d attended the meeting was notified. He also contacted his Women of the Moose counterpart, the senior regent, so she could notify any of her members who were present.

Rios told the News-Times Tuesday she’d learned of the positive cases in La Pine directly from Sehl when she stopped by the lodge Nov. 16. She said she’d experienced minor symptoms for days, which she attributed to a cold until speaking to Sehl. She and her daughter were tested and found positive last Friday, and she is self-isolating (she still has lingering symptoms, while her daughter has remained symptom free for more than week).

She said she immediately notified everyone she’d been in contact with — including 12 guests at her birthday party held at a restaurant Nov. 15. She said two groups of six sat at separate tables, and all of those guests have tested negative.

Rios said she’d originally posted the news to a private group for Moose members and shared on the public Waldport page at the urging of a friend. She said her intention was not to cast blame on the Moose Lodge — she wanted the public to know about potential exposure in the community.

She said she’d heard about other attendees at the district 2 meeting testing positive. If residents of other counties do receive positive tests, it’s not clear at what point the local health department would be notified.

Sehl, who is also the vice president for the Oregon Moose Association’s executive board, said the lodge is meticulous in observing safety protocols. It stayed closed through phase one of the governor’s reopening plan, dedicating its efforts to feeding more than 13,000 free meals over four months to people in need.

Everyone entering the lodge for the meeting wore a mask, Sehl said. “Groups that traveled to the lodge together and sat at the same table may have opted to remove their mask, if all agreed,” he said. He said his concern now was for the wellbeing of those who became ill, and he thought it was sad that a suggestion of wrongdoing on social media was overshadowing the organization’s good work. “We still have our responsibilities, and that also means maintaining all the safety protocols, and we feel we did so in a very respectful manner,” Sehl said. 

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