One of Southwest Washington’s most vocal opponents to pandemic restrictions recently contracted COVID-19, was hospitalized and continues to rely on oxygen. But the experience hasn’t changed his stance.

Sheriff Bob Songer said in an interview Tuesday that he doesn’t know how he caught the coronavirus, but in late July he felt an onset of symptoms: a headache, a runny nose and difficulty breathing. His diagnosis led to a five-day hospital stint. Songer said he’s back home now and using oxygen.

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When he returns to work — in a couple days, he said — Songer will resume fighting pandemic restrictions that he calls government overreach.

Related: Ahead of Washington reopening, Klickitat County sheriff threatens crusade if pandemic restrictions return

“Bottom line is: I beat it. And I did it without taking vaccinations, without getting my shot, without none of that nonsense,” the 76-year-old sheriff said. “And that’s my decision. I make that decision. Not the government.”

Songer, elected in 2014, has regularly criticized Gov. Jay Inslee and public health mandates like masks and social distancing. In June, the self-described constitutional sheriff promised to arrest any government official who tried to enforce new health mandates.

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His penchant for making headlines — The New Yorker wrote about him last summer — added intrigue to Songer’s sudden disappearance from the public eye. He missed public meetings and temporarily stopped hosting his weekly radio show in July.

Undersheriff Tim Neher spoke on Songer’s radio show Aug. 4 and said Songer was recovering, but still overseeing day-to-day operations.

“Bob is recovered. He’s still feeling under the weather, but he’s trying to take his health into consideration and get better every day,” Neher said.

Songer chalked up his oxygen use to an array of lung issues – not solely to COVID-19. A smoker for 50 years, he said he has chronic pulmonary issues. In 2016, the top lobe of his right lung was lopped off to fight cancer, he said. Songer added he had double-bypass heart surgery that same year.

“I’ve had pneumonia, bronchitis, all sorts of health problems associated with lungs,” he said. “So me going in, and them diagnosing me as COVID, didn’t mean squat to me. It meant I was fighting the same thing I’ve fought for several years.”

Songer couldn’t say if he infected any friends, family or colleagues at the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office. There are currently no outbreaks at any county department, according to Klickitat County Public Health.

Still, August is on track to become the second-worst month of the pandemic, officials said. The county has 66 active cases, and a vaccination rate of 39.5%. Its seven-day rate is 277 cases per 100,000 residents.

“I’ve always taken this position. If you want to go get a shot, go get that shot. By all means. If you want to wear several masks, or one mask, whatever, by all means. But don’t try forcing people into doing what you don’t want to do,” Songer said.

“And I will never, never support mandatory vaccinations,” he added. “When we got to get to the point where we act like Germany – let me see your papers before you can go in and have dinner – that is a problem.”

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