Why did an Oregon health official dressed like a clown read off the coronavirus death toll?

A video in which Oregon Health Authority officials dressed in costume give COVID-19 information is getting national attention, almost two weeks after it was initially posted.

The reason? A screenshot of the video showing an official in sad clown makeup reading off the daily virus death toll was shared widely on social media after it was tweeted by an Oregonian/OregonLive reporter, Samantha Swindler.

The story has been covered by Fox News, The Independent, TMZ and others.

Dr. Claire Poché, a public health physician with the Oregon Health Authority, kicked off the Halloween safety video by removing her surgical mask to reveal a full face of clown make-up, somewhat reminiscent of the Joker, one of Batman’s creepiest rivals.

“As of today, there have been 38,160 cases of COVID-19 in Oregon, with 390 new cases being reported today,” Poché said. “Sadly, we are also reporting three deaths today, bringing the statewide total for COVID-19 related deaths to 608.”

The optics aren’t ideal, especially as Oregon, like many states, deals with surging coronavirus cases.

Robb Cowie, communications director for the Oregon Health Authority, said the agency regretted how that part of the video was handled.

“We regret that, earlier this month, three tragic COVID-19 deaths were announced during a Facebook Live event focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19 during Halloween celebrations,” Cowie said in a statement.

“We mourn every person who has died from COVID-19 and we acknowledge the pain and loss their passing has left in the lives of their loved ones,” he said. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to warn Oregonians about the risks of COVID-19 and the steps they can take to protect themselves and the people around them.”

The rest of the video was a little less dark.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping how Oregonians celebrate holidays, and that includes Halloween but it doesn’t mean Halloween can’t still be spooky and fun this year,” Dr. Shimi Sharief, a health adviser to the Oregon Health Authority, said later while dressed in a fuzzy animal onesie.

Sharief and Poché offered plenty of trick-or-treating alternatives and did an informative question-and-answer session, which included an explanation about why trick-or-treating is riskier than going through a drive-thru.

“Although outdoor activities are generally less risky than indoor activities,” Poché said, “trick-or-treating is high risk because kids tend to get excited, which can lead to crowding people who aren’t members of their household.”

It isn’t until seven minutes in that either doctor acknowledges they are wearing costumes, and they never discuss the decision to wear them.

Poché refers to herself as a clown obliquely about 12 and a half minutes into the video

“As for me, we clowns kind of took a backseat to Halloween,” she said. “We were kind of relegated to birthday parties for several years. There were some bad actors who dressed up as clowns back in Halloween, I don’t know, maybe it was 2015, but I’m hoping to bring us back as the fun-loving, and happy clowns that we have always been.”

Meanwhile, the Oregon Health Authority is looking to hire a social media coordinator to join its communications team at a salary of up to $90,000 a year.

Samantha Swindler contributed to this report.

— Lizzy Acker

503-221-8052, [email protected], @lizzzyacker

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