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Carroll County state of emergency extended after tense debate; commissioner suggests rules hurt community

In a debate about whether to extend Carroll County’s state of emergency, one commissioner said Thursday he believes that restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic are doing more harm than good to the community.

Since COVID-19 touched down in Carroll County, the commissioners have routinely voted to extend the local state of emergency by 30 days, though not all commissioners have agreed each time. When the extension came up for a vote Thursday, Commissioners Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, and Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, voted against extending the state of emergency to Nov. 12. The other three commissioners voted in favor of the extension.

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County attorney Tim Burke called the state of emergency “largely symbolic” from a legal standpoint, but said ending it would not allow the county to shirk the governor’s orders for the state. The local state of emergency triggers the implementation of Carroll County’s emergency management plan and empowers commissioners to make decisions pursuant to that plan to benefit residents, Burke said.

Bouchat pushed for the county to stop following what he called the status quo and urged his fellow commissioners to lead by restoring the community to a sense of normalcy. He suggested there is a correlation between the 54% spike in overdoses from August to September and the restrictions of the pandemic. The Carroll County Health Department suspects the increase is related to street drugs.

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“I think we have inflicted a cure that is causing more damage upon our citizenry than it’s cured,” Bouchat said.

He alleged there is no correlation between wearing masks and the number of deaths resulting from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He questioned Ed Singer, county health officer, about fatalities from congregate living facilities such as nursing homes. Although nursing homes have strict mask policies, people there have still died, Bouchat said. Congregate living facilities have experienced 130 deaths as of Oct. 9, according to health department data, whereas 17 have died in the community outside those facilities.

Bouchat suggested that vulnerable people are at the same risk of dying from COVID-19 whether they’re in nursing homes or not. Singer said that’s like comparing “apples and oranges.” People who live in nursing homes typically live in closer proximity to one another than residents outside of those kinds of facilities, Singer said, and residents often have existing health issues that make them vulnerable to becoming more seriously ill from COVID-19.

The Carroll County Health Department, in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in addition to social distancing of at least 6 feet and frequent hand washing. Singer said Thursday the disease is primarily spread through airborne droplets, which can be released when someone coughs or sneezes or even breaths, especially heavily.

Carroll County’s weekly rate of new COVID-19 cases rose from 45 the week of Sept. 20 to 63 the following week, health department data shows, and this week has seen 46 as of Friday.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, did not seem to appreciate Bouchat’s statements.

“Based on the fact that we’re doing well, I assume out of your statements that you just want to stop everything,” Wantz said. "I guess it goes in line with the fact that you don’t wear a mask anywhere.”

Bouchat did not address the mask comment, and instead chastised his colleagues for not attending local rallies to support small businesses and youth sports during the pandemic.

“I just feel that we have policies in place that have no scientific link,” he said.

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, told Bouchat that masks are used to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that the commissioners have supported local businesses throughout the pandemic, such as through the $4 million Carroll Rebound relief fund.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said he did attend a youth sports rally, and steered the conversation back to the decision of whether to extend the local state of emergency. Frazier said he did not see a need to continue it. Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, sided with Wantz and Rothstein to extend the state of emergency.

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