August 19, 2021. 4:20 p.m. Update: Oregon Public Broadcasting published a report confirming Sheriff Songer recently contracted COVID-19. Songer said in the report he was hospitalized for five days and is recovering at home with the help of oxygen. He plans to return to work in "a couple days."

Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer would not say whether he had recently contracted COVID-19 in an interview last Friday.

Tips flowed into Columbia Gorge News’ inbox last week detailing rumors of Songer’s illness, which had asked to confirm if it was COVID-19; one such source cited a reporter from The New Yorker, Charles Bethea, who tweeted last week that unnamed county sources told him that “Sheriff Bob Songer of Klickitat County WA — a Trump supporter, member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association & vocal opponent of pandemic orders — was recently hospitalized w/ Covid-19... Songer has not returned calls.”

Columbia Gorge News had been aware of Songer’s absence due to an undisclosed illness since Monday, August 2, after reaching out to him and the sheriff’s office on an unrelated matter. After calling Songer’s cell phone that day and leaving a voicemail, Columbia Gorge News reached out to the sheriff’s office in an attempt to reach him. A clerk with the sheriff’s office then advised to wait “a couple days” before reaching out, while confirming Songer had been ill.

Seeking comment from the sheriff himself, Columbia Gorge News reached out to Songer, who had not returned multiple calls since Aug. 2. Undersheriff Tim Neher was unavailable for comment last Friday, and when Columbia Gorge News asked the sheriff’s office to get in touch with Songer and return the call, he did so almost immediately.

When asked if he could confirm the unsubstantiated reports, Songer said rumors of his COVID-19 illness were a part of a Democratic Party-led conspiracy to “take me down.”

Asked again plainly if the rumors were true, Songer said he would disclose more information at a later, unspecified date.

Songer recently made headlines for defying Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency orders relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, and threatening to arrest government officials for endorsing masking and vaccine mandates.

Last Friday, both Songer and Undersheriff Tim Neher were out of the office, the latter having taken a vacation, according to Carmen Knopes, the county’s Jail Superintendent. Knopes confirmed that “they still remain in leadership” and, even though they’re out of the office, they’re still able to communicate with staff and hand down orders.

This week, the sheriff’s White Salmon office is closed to the public. Knopes said that the department’s closing the office at the western end of the county this week is due to multiple staff “on vacation” given their families are part of the Klickitat County Fair, occurring this week.

Deputies will continue to perform tasks normally handed to them at the fair, as well as reserve deputies and posse members. Administrative officials are also expected to make an appearance at the fair, although Knopes did not know whether Songer would be there.

“We can’t be in two places at once, and the fair is top priority,” Knopes said.

The Goldendale office remains open through fair week.