Salem-Keizer board member criticized for violating state Covid rules with maskless New Year’s party

A screenshot from Jesse Lippold’s Instagram shows him attending a maskless New Year’s party with about a dozen friends.

A Salem-Keizer School Board Director is facing criticism after attending a maskless New Year’s party with about a dozen friends.

Jesse Lippold posted photos on his Instagram page over the weekend showing him, his girlfriend and other friends at a party.

Gov. Kate Brown and public health officials have frowned upon these types of gatherings and said that holding them would delay the reopening of schools and local businesses. Since November, social gatherings of more than six people who do not live together have been prohibited in Marion County under the state’s Covid restrictions.

Lippold’s post described the event as a “modern speakeasy” and said the group didn’t social distance but “were still less packed than every mall, Walmart or Costco.”

Screenshots of the post have been shared by Salem parents and teachers on Facebook, with many criticizing Lippold’s choice to ignore state rules.

Health officials in Marion County and at Oregon Health Authority have said for months informal social gatherings are a driver of the virus’ spread.

“It’s unacceptable that a public schools official is doing this while the rest of us are desperately abiding by rules in an effort to try and get our kids an opportunity to attend school,” wrote Stephanie Koski, a parent with an 8th grader in the district who has advocated for school reopening.

“While so many cry out for leadership, this isn’t it. Our kids are literally suffering, our community is hurting, and businesses are closing. You have officially lost my respect and vote,” wrote Reid Sund, a former candidate for Salem City Council, on his Facebook page.

In an interview Tuesday, Lippold said the party was by invitation only for a group of friends he regularly spends time with. He estimated 10 to 15 people were present and said the group agreed to quarantine after the party and get tested for Covid.

“With my role, maybe I shouldn’t have done that just because of the perception,” he said. “As far as the facts go, I did it in a way that keeps people safe.”

Lippold said he has a Covid test scheduled for Jan. 6 and others from the group have already tested negative, including his girlfriend.

“I don’t want people to think I don’t care about the restrictions because I do,” he said. “I wear a mask and I try my best to social distance.”

Lippold said he feels state restrictions about the pandemic are often contradictory, with large retailers allowed to remain open while small businesses are closed or struggling.

“I just don’t think a lot of our state guidelines are following the science,” he said.

He said he spent Christmas with his family and sees his girlfriend and other friends in the group, but hasn’t had contact with anyone outside those circles since Dec. 12. He said he will continue quarantining after his test to “play it safe.”

“According to science, if I’m locked away by myself there is no risk to others,” he said.

Local schools have been closed since March because the number of Covid cases reported weekly in Marion County has remained far higher than the benchmark set by Gov. Kate Brown for reopening schools.

Those guidelines became advisory on Jan. 1, with reopening decisions now up to local school districts. But the relatively high rate of Covid in Marion County remains a challenge as district leaders bargain with teachers and employees over returning to buildings.

Ahead of winter break, Superintendent Christy Perry asked district families to follow guidelines in hopes of getting local Covid rates down.

“Please know, we are eager to see your kids in school when the metrics improve, and we need everyone’s help. Please remember to wear a face covering, socially distance, avoid large gatherings and continue to follow the guidance from our state,” Perry wrote in an email to parents.

Lippold was elected to the school board in 2017 for a four-year term. His seat is one of four on the seven-member board up for election in May.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.