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Carroll commissioner suggests masks aren’t helping prevent COVID-19 fatalities; board extends state of emergency

The members of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners continue to disagree over when to lift the local state of emergency, and during Thursday’s meeting, the debate extended to the county government’s role in enforcing the wearing of masks.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to again extend the state of emergency, this time by 30 days, as suggested by Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5. Commissioners Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, and Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, voted against it.

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After the vote, Frazier suggested the county take action to encourage more people to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I am, frankly, tired of walking in stores and seeing people without masks” or people wearing masks without covering their noses, Frazier said. “We should be out of this part of the pandemic by now and we’re not because people don’t do what they need to do.”

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None of the commissioners expressed an eagerness to police mask wearing, but most were in favor of promoting mask wearing among the general public.

Bouchat, however, suggested wearing masks in the general public is not making a difference where he believes it counts — in the nursing homes.

“It may make you feel good that you’re wearing a mask and you’re doing something, but the reality is you’re doing nothing,” Bouchat said. “It does not protect and save the lives of the people in nursing homes.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the Carroll County Health Department had reported 1,179 COVID-19 cases in the county, of which 648 were found in congregate living facilities, such as nursing homes. Deaths total 130 in the county, of which 116 originated in congregate living facilities, according to the health department’s website.

Bouchat said, “as a libertarian,” he believes businesses should set their own mask policies.

“This is America. We have freedoms and liberties,” he said.

Frazier reminded Bouchat the governor issued an executive order stating masks must be worn on public transit and in stores.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing face coverings to reduce the spread of the disease. COVID-19 spreads primarily through through respiratory droplets, such as when a person coughs or sneezes, according to the CDC website.

A study published online in Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed health care journal, examined the number of daily COVID-19 cases by county in 15 states and Washington, D.C. between March 31 and May 22, and how the number of cases relate to mandated mask wearing policies. In places where masks were required in public, the daily number of cases declined by 0.9% in the first five days and then by 2% after 21+ days, according to a summary of the study. Between 230,000 and 450,000 cases were possibly averted by May 22 due to these mandates, estimates in the study suggest.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, suggested partnering with the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce to promote masks. He said business owners should enforce mask policies, but he did not want the county government to become involved in policing it. Rothstein agreed, saying the county should recommend best practices, not dictate.

Frazier initially raised the idea of issuing an order that would prevent businesses from serving people who do not wear masks, acknowledging he was unsure of whether the board has the authority to do so. He then appeared to support Weaver’s approach. Frazier advocated for an educational press release from the county and chamber of commerce, with the health department’s backing, that could possibly be displayed in the windows of businesses.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said the county would reach out to the chamber’s president, Mike McMullin, and run the commissioners’ ideas by Ed Singer, head of the county health department.

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