Chatham County’s Board of Health unanimously endorsed a motion Monday night urging the Chatham County Board of Commissioners to require the wearing of face coverings inside all Chatham County …
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Chatham County’s Board of Health unanimously endorsed a motion Monday night urging the Chatham County Board of Commissioners to require the wearing of face coverings inside all Chatham County government facilities, while “strongly encouraging” face coverings in other public settings.
This follows a request made by the commissioners, who will consider the recommendation and decide whether to enforce it as part of the county’s current COVID-19-related state of emergency.
Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chairperson Karen Howard told the News + Record in an email last week the commissioners referred the question to Interim Health Director Mike Zelek for input from the board of health at its monthly meeting.
“I personally feel it is the direction we should go,” Howard said. “But think the advice of professionals would go far in advancing the idea from a public health perspective and might encourage widespread support.”
During the health board’s discussion Monday, there were questions regarding the enforcement of such a requirement and the precise wording of where to require face coverings. Board member Don Roscoe suggested the board make a “strong recommendation” instead of a requirement.
Fellow board member Marcia Herman-Giddens agreed and said the board could update its recommendation to a requirement if there was another surge. She cited studies that show the effectiveness of masks in reducing the spread of the coronavirus as reason to make the recommendation.
Chatham Commissioner Jim Crawford, who is also a member of the health board, told the group policy should be made for the “optimal population” and those who won’t comply aren’t a good enough reason for the board to not act.
“This isn’t an abstract argument,” Crawford said. “This is an argument in the middle of a pandemic that’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
Several motions were made and workshopped before the motion that would end up passing was made.
“Maybe we’ll make a recommendation — a broad and high-level recommendation — to the county commissioners and they can hash out those fine details,” health board chairman Carol Reitz-Barlow said.
With the board in agreeance, board member Lewis Lampiris outlined the recommendation.
“Our letter to the commissioners will be that the board of health urges the commissioners to require facial coverings in all county facilities and strongly urge the public to use facial coverings in the community setting,” he said.
The county commissioners are scheduled to meet next on July 20. Crawford said the county could potentially move to implement the measure sooner.
“I will ask the chair to perhaps convene a meeting where we can pass this,” he said. “We would have to advertise this 72 hours out, but we can do a virtual meeting on this matter.”
Zelek told the News + Record last week that the health board will continue encouraging people to follow the three W’s to slow the spread of COVID-19: wear a mask, wash your hands and wait six feet apart.
“We continue to hammer these messages home and we’ve seen a lot of support, a lot of positive uptake, from the community,” Zelek said. “We really appreciate that because that’s going to be the key in helping us stay ahead of this as best we can.”
After the passage of their motion, the health board also discussed its role in providing equity and diversity. The board referred to a letter read during the public input session by Karinda Roebuck, the co-chairman of Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity and the Chatham Health Alliance Equity Committee. In her statement, Roebuck called on the board to name and take seriously the threat of systemic racism on public health. The board also referred to the letter Howard wrote to the community regarding the coronavirus and George Floyd’s death.
In the board’s later discussion, members suggested writing their own statement rather than just endorsing Howard’s letter. Questions about writing a statement that addressed concerns in an apolitical way were raised. There was no formal motion to write the statement, but board members Lampiris, John Kessler and Stephanie Freece volunteered to draft one on behalf of the board with Zelek.
“We know about those disparities, I mean, that’s not rocket science,” Lampiris said. “One of the major factors that has led to those disparities are issues of structural racism — so we’re just putting that in there. We can talk about diet, nutrition and healthy foods but bottom line, it’s structures that are in place that are keeping people oppressed. So it’s not a political statement, it’s just an honest affirmation of a condition people living under that we want to eliminate.”