'Profiled' in Deschutes County
Last updated 3/23/2022 at Noon
On a Monday last October, I was told by a friend with whom I’d had coffee they’d tested positive for COVID.
I was fully vaccinated so I didn’t think much about it. But two days later, on Wednesday, October 27, I was feeling lousy and decided to be tested.
The test came back positive.
Due to my age, asthma, and a fresh, new coronary stent, I qualified for an infusion of monoclonal antibodies. I received these the next day, Thursday, October 28, then went home and took a nap.
During the infusion and my nap, a representative of the Deschutes County Health Department left several messages by voice mail and text, starting at 3:33 p.m.
“Hi Erik. This is J.D. from Deschutes County Health Services. Please call me as soon as possible. I have important information regarding your health. Thank you.”
I called back at around 4:45 p.m. and left a message.
J.D. and I spoke Friday morning, October 29. She said she represented the Deschutes County Health Department and emphasized her role in providing services.
She asked for names of those I’d been in contact with, and said that she would inform them they’d been in contact with someone who tested positive. I declined. At the very least, I’d want to check with each of those people to see if they wanted to be on my “in contact list.”
I responded that I live alone, that I’d told everyone I’d had contact with about my positive test, and that they were all aware of protocols.
J.D. suggested my own self-quarantine should last two weeks to be on the “safe side.” I disagreed, saying the guidelines no longer were for a two week quarantine, I’d received monoclonal antibodies that significantly reduced my viral load, I was not symptomatic, and had plans that would be expensive and disruptive to change.
J.D. asked what my plans were and I politely declined to go into detail. I’d grown uncomfortable with these questions from someone I thought was a case worker assisting me with COVID related services. Something else was odd. She seemed to know things we had not discussed.
She said something in the conversation about my plans to fly. I’d not told J.D. I was “flying” anywhere, and pointed that out. She recovered by saying something to the effect that since changing my plans “would be expensive, that probably means flying.”
I didn’t know at the time that a file on me was being built by the State of Oregon. The software used is called “Opera,” first posted to a government server on September 3, 2020.
The Opera User Guide describes the software as follows:
“This document is intended to introduce new case investigators to the Oregon Pandemic Emergency Response Application (Opera).
Opera was created as a clone of the Oregon Public Health Epidemiologists’ User System (Orpheus) for communicable disease surveillance and reporting.
Both Opera and Orpheus are person-centric databases where a person record is associated with a case record of a disease.
In Opera, that disease is COVID-19; in Orpheus, it may be one of many other communicable diseases.
Opera is complemented by the At Risk Identification Alerting System (ARIAS) for Contact tracing of Oregon residents exposed to COVID-19.
Opera and ARIAS are essential elements of tracking, tracing, isolating, and quarantining new cases and Contacts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
In my Opera file, the first entry was from J.D., saying she’d left a voice mail and text message at 3:33 p.m. on Thursday, October 28.
The next entry was on the following day from a Richard Leman. There was no time stamp. I don’t know who Richard Leman works for, probably the State of Oregon. The entry simply said, “New Travel Record.” I don’t know where Richard Leman sourced his information.
The next entry was again from J. D., headlined with stars and in all caps:
** BREAKTHROUGH CASE. **
J.D. wrote that she’d completed an interview “with Stanford-educated philosopher who does not wish to comply with isolation instructions. He has a flight scheduled (no details provided) and said he intends to follow through with his travel plans.”
I’d not told J.D. where I went to college and never claim to be “philosopher.” Philosophizer would be more appropriate. I’ve too much respect for real philosophers to claim that title for myself.
She’d probably scraped this inaccurately from my Facebook page. That feels a little invasive when posted to a government profile.
I didn’t know it then, but now assume that prior to our conversation J.D. had read that “New Travel Record” entry posted by Richard Leman. To J.D. I’d said I had “plans” I was not inclined to cancel, given that I had no symptoms and a minimal amount of virus in my system.
Her phrase “…who does not wish to comply with isolation instructions…” was minimally accurate. Had I received “instructions?”
I’d received suggestions, disagreed that quarantine for two weeks was still appropriate, and that even the November 6 date she described as possible depended on testing, viral load and symptoms.
On the phone J.D. said she would send an email with recommendations. I said it wasn’t necessary. She said she could send it to my P.O. Box, but that had the risk of spreading my virus to others. I agreed to receiving the information via email.
In the Opera file that I didn’t then know existed, she wrote that I “acquiesced” to receiving an unencrypted email. I don’t know why she didn’t use the word “agreed” to receive the email. The word “acquiesced” was negative. My secret file on the State of Oregon “Opera” server now painted me as an uncooperative.
Just after noon on Friday October 29, about an hour and a half after my conversation with J.D., her supervisor K.G. entered a note into my file:
“Requested a search to see if case was traveling within the next 72 hours. Turns out he is not. K.B. suggested we text case to try and tease out the travel dates. I have conveyed this ti (SIC) (J.D.) and she will proceed by texting case.”
Apparently my lack of compliance had caused my case to be kicked upstairs and K.B., with the Oregon State Department of Health in Salem, suggested they might be able to “tease out the travel dates.”
So a few minutes later, J.D. sent me another text: “Hello again, Erik. Good news. We may be able to adjust your isolation dates. When are you planning to fly?”
In my career as a newspaperman, I’ve had experience with similar tactics. I’d not told J.D. I was flying anywhere. She did not offer a specific date that I might travel. The deflection felt like it was not to assist, but gather information. It increased my wariness.
I texted right back, “J.D., I’m comfortable with my plans based upon available information. Thank you for your concern.” While cautious, I still believed I was communicating with someone providing services.
Not too much later, K.B. in Salem called to inform me that I had been put on a “Do Not Board” list that would prevent me from flying anywhere. It was at that point I became certain J.D. had been gathering information as opposed to providing it, and was not the “case worker” I assumed to be providing assistance.
I was angry and told K.B. the state should pay for the cancelled trip and hotel reservations. K.B. was understanding, and shared a story where a member of her family was prevented from traveling to an important birthday. The connection helped.
K.B told me that I’d be able to fly on November 5 if I met “the criteria to be discontinued from isolation.” Given that I’d planned to drive for three hours on November 3, stay in a hotel and then catch an early plane to Texas on November 4, then fly back on November 6, I instead decided to cancel the trip.
To have travel success dependent on intergovernmental communications occurring without any hitch whatsoever was simply too risky for not enough time.
As soon as I got off the phone with K.B., I texted “Shame on you” to J.D. I immediately wished I’d not pushed “send,” though the response was milder than my emotions at that moment. I believed J.D. fostered my belief that she was a “case worker” interested primarily in providing me services, when her goal was to gather information and restrict my movements.
It rankled that I’d done the right thing by getting a test, was willing to self-quarantine for a period after I was free of symptoms, that I always wore an N95 mask when shopping, had in every vehicle sanitizer that I used on my hands after being out. At the same time, unvaccinated, unmasked, untested, and symptomatic people would be able to fly without restriction.
Voluntarily being tested and providing my contact info so I could receive the results had resulted in being put on a federal “do not fly” list. That felt wrong.
Later, I looked again at the email J.D. had sent after our long conversation. Initially I’d just skimmed it. On the reread, on the second page after bold-face type: (BOLD) “The safest option is to quarantine at home for 14-days since last close contact to a person with COVID-19” (BOLD) and just before pages of bright graphics, J.D. identified herself as an “Investigator” with the Deschutes County Department of Health.
A week after my initial contact with Deschutes County, J.D.’s supervisor, K.G. called to ask how I was doing and tell me the “Do Not Board” restriction would be lifted.
I thought K.G. and I were having a nice conversation. With a PhD in — I think — immunology, she had knowledge and I wanted to know which booster would provide maximum protection (same as first two injections, or different?).
Then things went a little sideways. I’d said something about the flight restrictions seeming less than rational. K.G. referred to my text of “Shame on you” to J.D.
When I explained that that J.D. had not informed me of her title or status as an “investigator and I’d felt misled, ” K.G. told me flat out: “I can’t believe that.”
I’m not used to being called a liar. I acknowledged it was possible J.D. had inadvertently left out her “investigator” status, as opposed to hiding it during her “investigation,” or that I’d missed the information in passing. But it was not disclosed prior to our long conversation over the phone and not in the texts I received urging me to contact J.D.
K.G. became brittle and said we should end the conversation so she could get my “no fly” status removed. I saw no point in continuing the conversation either, and asked for documentation that I was removed from the “Do Not Board” list. In case there were SNAFUS in the process, I wanted evidence in hand.
At this point, I still did not know of the file being created in my “Opera Case Notes” on a State of Oregon server.
Of this conversation, K.G. wrote in that file: “I just got off the phone with Mr. Dolson. He was polite enough, although he wanted to talk about how horribly he had been inconvenienced by our actions. His view is that he was penalized for doing the “right thing” in getting tested. I finally suggested he stop talking about the federal gov’t so I could submit my update in a timely fashion. He complied…”
This language is pejorative, representing either her own disapproval or intended to create disapproval in future readers. She wrote I was “polite enough.” Why create skepticism of my politeness? Why not just “polite?”
“… although he wanted to talk about how horribly he had been inconvenienced by our actions.” I don’t use the word “horrible.” Along with “disgusting,” it has been ruined through recent overuse.
She said I “complied” with her suggestion that I stop talking about the federal government…” In common use, “comply” implies meeting standards. What standards are those? Why did she not simply write that I “agreed” to ending the conversation so she could file her update?
That’s how I saw it at the time.
She wrote “Mr. Dolson insisted that he wants documentation about his removal from the DNB and certification that his isolation dates are over. I told him he received the case letter via email. I have documentation that the email was sent by the case investigator at 11;)6 (sic) am on 10-29-2021.”
Well, I’d received an email I was put on the “Do Not Board” list on October 29, but I was asking for documentation that I was taken off the list. In fact, when the official letters were finally delivered by Fed-Ex, the letter that I was removed from the DNB list arrived before the letter that I was put on the list.
Which was why I had decided not to drive three hours and spend a night in a hotel hoping the process would go smoothly.
But, this didn’t end there.
I live part time on a boat. Prior to COVID, that boat spent a significant amount of time in Canada. I would go back and forth from my home in Oregon. To expedite travel, I applied for and received status with the federal NEXUS program that eases border crossing between the U.S. and Canada. This was linked to my “Trusted Traveler Status” with the TSA.
Both reduce time spent waiting in line. Admittedly, I am one of those “born impatient.”
After I received the letter that my “Do Not Board” restriction had been lifted, I received another email, this one also from the U.S. government. The key paragraph: “We regret to inform you that your membership in NEXUS has been revoked for the following reason(s): You do not meet program eligibility requirements.”
I looked up the “eligibility requirements,” but saw nothing that would be a disqualification.
If I felt wronged before, these revocations kicked it up a couple of notches. I’d spent hundreds of dollars and considerable time to acquire these privileges, driving from Central Oregon to Portland for TSA to take my fingerprints and to Blaine, Washington for NEXUS to scan my retina.
What happened? The most responsive person I’d dealt with during my COVID experience was K.B. at the Oregon State Health Department. She said loss of NEXUS privileges should not be related to the “Do Not Board” restriction they had filed through the Center for Disease Control (and which was passed on to the Department of Homeland Security.)
However, K.B. was extremely nice and offered to track that down.
Whatever the path, my interactions with Deschutes County seemed to have caused ripples beyond my positive test for COVID. Revocation of my TSA and NEXUS status made me wonder if there were communications I was unaware of, if there might be a “file” created, possibly as a result of my “Shame on you” text.
I contacted the head Deschutes County Health Department, Dr. George Conway. I told Dr. Conway I needed a copy of my file to prove to the federal government that I was not a risk that justified revoking my traveler status.
Dr. Conway was extremely responsive and put me in touch with an effective staff person who sent “my file” from the state’s “Opera” server.
What I read was eye-opening. Simply as a result of my testing positive for COVID, but because attitudes or procedures of those with whom I dealt mixed poorly with my previous life experience (Don’t trust “The Man”), the file (which probably still exists) portrays me as a possible threat to public health, uncooperative, of questionable ethics.
I wrote a letter to be included in the file that outlined what I experienced and suggested that the role of “helpful advisor” be separated from “investigator” to avoid future confusion. I don’t know how many investigators there are in Oregon, or if all use the same approach. I believe they do all use Opera.
This story will probably be added to the file as well, when discovered. I hope it’s copied verbatim.
The actions taken as a result of my positive COVID test seemed arbitrary, punitive, unreasonable and without due process, at the time. It was especially galling when I walked into Costco and saw folks not wearing masks, anti-vaxxers who believe vaccines are a liberal plot to destroy America, who will never be tested but had rights and privileges denied to me.
But the sense of violation is even worse, now. There are those who believe COVID is a government plot to control the population. I do not believe those I dealt with in the Deschutes County Health Department had anything less than the best intentions to protect Americans against what they view as a dangerous and virulent disease.
But their sense of mission caused them to violate my boundaries, if not my rights. Less than transparent attempts to gather information appeared to me as misdirection at best, falsehood at worst.
A discussion about what’s “reasonable” became evidence of my non-compliance, which went on to have significant consequences of its own.
That all this information was being secretly logged (at least without my knowledge) on a State of Oregon server, presumably in Salem, makes me want to howl with outrage.
In some ways, my experience validates fears and complaints of those I most disagree with politically. I’m a liberal. From their point of view, I worship government intervention. What’s my problem?
Actually, no. I’m an old liberal, who came of age when government was not to be trusted, when J. Edgar Hoover was keeping files on “troublesome Negroes,” “Commies,” “sex deviants” disruptive students and … his political enemies.
Surveillance was then known to be dangerous. Today, that’s less recognized but even worse with the suspension of privacy after 9-11 and aided by corporations which gather personal information in a conspiracy with agencies seeking more and more data “for society’s own good.”
Ironic that this is a “right-wing” cause now.
I was taught to be vigilant about protecting our rights and the importance of privacy — not because we are doing wrong, but because it’s too easy for others to interpret our actions wrongly, to find us guilty through invalid assumptions or malicious intent and without due process.
And now I have an Opera record on a data base I did not know existed. If you were tested in Oregon, maybe you have one, too. See “Russia,” and “China.” How ironic if we are converging with their “Big Brother” societies.
We each have to be vigilant against our own biases, too. Looking at how I was described by county health workers, and comparing that to my own perceptions, reinforces my knowledge that one’s point of view is not absolute.
My trusted traveler privileges were restored on February 7, 2022, three months after being revoked, but only after I petitioned the necessary federal agencies with proof that the “Do Not Board” order had been lifted.
I still wonder if the federal government initially took that repressive action after a surreptitious review of my “Opera” file.
For more by Erik Dolson, see erikdolson.substack.com