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Bouchat backs down from mask-related lawsuit as Carroll commissioners require all boards, commissions to meet virtually

After threatening earlier this week to file a lawsuit against his fellow Carroll County commissioners because of their decision to enact a mask mandate inside county buildings, Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 2, backed down Tuesday once officials agreed to require all county business to be conducted online only in January.

“My colleagues received excellent legal counsel from our attorney’s office and changed the policy I was going to sue them over,” Bouchat said after a commissioner meeting on Tuesday. “[They] know what they were trying to pull off on me was unconstitutional.”

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On Dec. 30 commissioners voted 4-1, with Bouchat dissenting, to require unvaccinated Carroll County government employees to wear an appropriate mask (preferably N95 or KN95) in government facilities, and require all visitors to county facilities, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask inside county buildings.

Bouchat said the mask requirement he believes the mask requirement discriminates against people who have not received a COVID-19 vaccination. It “forces un-vaxed county employees into N95 masks and not vaxed employees,” Bouchat said, calling the move “a violation of the 14th Amendment,” an amendment that addresses the rights of citizens.

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At their Tuesday meeting the Carroll commissioners decided to require all boards and commissions to conduct their business online only for the next 30 days. They also decided to push the State of the County presentation from January to Feb. 1.

The board also updated the mask policy, voting 4-1 to request that employees and visitors wear a mask in county government buildings regardless of vaccination status and to provide two hours of paid leave for county employees to receive a vaccination or booster shot, which will be retroactive. Bouchat was the lone vote against the measures.

When asked if Bouchat’s lawsuit threat influenced the board’s decision to conduct county business virtually for the next month, Commissioner President Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said “absolutely not.”

“We received no legal counsel or administrative advice,” Rothstein said. “We were made aware of [Bouchat] wanting to sue us individually ... but our decision ... was made because of the governor’s press conferences” on Monday and Tuesday morning.

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Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency Tuesday morning, effective for the next 30 days.

Rothstein said Hogan is requesting all state facilities require mask coverings and has authorized two hours of paid leave for state employees to receive a vaccination or booster shot. The Republican governor also provided updated quarantine protocols for all state employees based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“The governor said the best fix to this challenge is to get vaccinated and he is highly encouraging, as we all are, to get vaccinated, wear the mask, to avoid crowds, to wash our hands and use common sense,” Rothstein said.

“We do not want to mandate our community into doing something … It’s not our place to overstep our bounds but what we can do is work within our county government and lead by example,” Rothstein said. “We encourage everyone to get vaccinated as that has been the proven way of minimizing the impact of COVID-19.”

While 92% of Maryland adults and 33% of the state’s children are vaccinated or have begun vaccination, in Carroll County, about 65.9% of adults have received one dose of the vaccine and 71.4% have received two doses.

According to officials representing Carroll Hospital, the facility had 191 patients in total on Tuesday, 73 of whom tested positive for COVID-19. Of the COVID-positive patients, 75% are unvaccinated and are an average age of 58 years old. The vaccinated COVID-19 positive patients are an average age of 78 years old. On Tuesday, there were 15 patients in the Critical Care Unit, all of whom are COVID-19 positive.

In addition, according to Rothstein, the governor shared concerning COVID-19 related statistics today.

“As of this morning the governor shared there are 3,057 COVID positive hospitalizations … That is an increase of 500% over the last seven weeks,” Rothstein said. “He has allocated now $100 million in state funds to hospitals and nursing homes.

“[Hogan] expects things to change over the next four to six weeks but this will be the most challenging time,” Rothstein said.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said he also believes the COVID-19 case surge will continue for the next four to six weeks.

“We again need to be very mindful of what we’re doing,” Wantz said. “We’ve all become quite complacent as numbers started to go down and now we’ve got to get back to protecting one another.”

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