BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A proposal to require face coverings when not publicly social distancing in Lee County was turned down Tuesday by Lee County officials.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors rejected a proposed regulation from the Lee County Board of Health that would have required masks in public if social distancing isn’t possible. There was no vote, because Supervisor Rick Larkin’s motion to approve died for a lack of a second.
“The motion dies for a lack of a second and there will be no face covering regulation,” said Board Chairman Ron Fedler.
The regulation had several exceptions including when exercising, or driving in vehicles, but for the most part would have required face masks out in public places or in places where members of the public are present.
All five supervisors said they have been inundated with calls and emails regarding the incident.
“This is that red hot, highly charged hot potato issue, and here we are,” said Supervisor Rich Harlow.
Fedler said the number of people reaching out to him are overwhelmingly against the regulation.
“A lot of people have been stopping me or talking to me, and an overwhelming majority of 90 to 95% of the people said they did not want us to pass this,” Fedler said.
“I know the Health Department is in charge of the health of Lee County and I understand their decision, but we as a board are elected where as the Board of Health is appointed. Our job is to listen to residents and what they want.”
Fedler said he didn’t oppose the Board of Health recommendation, but he said he had to stop at the point where it became a law where people could be fined for not wearing a mask.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber and Lee County Attorney Ross Braden have been vocal about their opposition to enforcing a countywide mandate.
“This doesn’t belong in the hands of law enforcement,” Weber said.
“We’ve short-changed the people of our county. They are smart people and they are doing what we do. If I feel the need to wear it, I wear it. But it’s a choice, and it’s heavy-handed to say they are going to do this or we’re going to make you a criminal.”
Braden reiterated that approving the regulation would further overwhelm a court system that is already backlogged six months because of the virus.
Supervisor Gary Folluo who initiated the inquiry on the board to look into a regulation, said Tuesday that there were things in the regulation that he couldn’t support.
“There is a substantial rate decrease and people in Lee County are doing the right thing. When they do the right things – wear a mask, social distance and wash their hands, this is the way this thing is combatted,” Folluo said.
“My personal opinion is that you should be wearing a mask. It’s all about your neighbor, your friend, and the people you come in contact with. The (Centers for Disease Control) administrator has stated that the mask is the best thing you can do to limit infection.”
Supervisor Matt Pflug, who’s the board’s liaison to the Health Department and has been supportive of the regulation, said he couldn’t support it Tuesday.
“I think we have to listen to Stacy and Ross. Their opinion’s carry a lot of weight here. As the liaison to the Health Department, it’s tough for me today, but I’m against this for a couple of reasons.”
Pflug said he believed that most people in the county are wearing masks and the numbers are going down. He also said that it was his understanding that Johnson County, who has a regulation in effect until the end of October, had not written one citation, but had instead been educating those not in compliance.
“If this was gonna go forward, we would need Stacy’s backing. At this time it doesn’t make sense to put this in place in my opinion.”
Rick Larkin said he supported the resolution because it was simple thing that the county could do to help control the virus, especially if a second, more intense, wave of infection were to come during flu season.
“If we all wore masks the number of new cases would go down, but when we still have high numbers like 14 in a day that tells me it’s still out of control,” Larkin said.
“They say they are tired of this virus and we’re all tired of it, but with a second wave coming, I think the worst is in front of us.”
The Board of Health could resubmit the regulation and start the process over again since the proposal wasn’t voted on, but without the vote, that resolution to approve the Board of Health’s recommendation, goes away.