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Commission Communications: The mask mandate

Chillicothe News

By Ed Douglas

On Monday, Dec. 1, I addressed the Chillicothe City Council regarding my thoughts on the Emergency Declaration of a Mask Mandate issued by the Livingston County Heath, Chillicothe Mayor Theresa Kelly and myself as Presiding Commissioner of Livingston County. As follows are a summary of my comments.

To begin with I should note that several people spoke to the council with concerns about the mandate regarding loss of civil liberties, fears of enforcement, concerns about potential future more severe restrictions and worries of loss of business from customers because of the mandate. I indicated in my comments that I understood their concerns and worries.

The background for the mask mandate is that our local hospital was at a point where they could no longer transfer patients to any other hospitals and therefore were extremely concerned about their ability to take care of COVID-19 patients and other patients needing hospitalization. Our hospital and doctors pleaded for help from our health department that something needed to be done quickly to slow the spread of the disease. Our county health department had the authority to issue this Emergency Declaration on their own but asked the Mayor and me to sign on to it to add further emphasis on its importance. We both agreed to do this. My reasoning was two-fold. First, the county, city and health department have worked very well together on a number of important issues and I thought it was important to continue this cooperation. Secondly, I believe it was the right thing to do.

My reasoning for supporting in this decision is primarily by my intense belief and desire to do everything possible to keep businesses open and kids in school.

I would like to believe that I am extremely pro-business and pro- schools. When I received the Federal Cares Act Funds in May of this year, I immediately formed an Oversight Committee of our commission, county clerk, mayor, city administrator, city clerk, and health director and then formed an additional sub group to help us with business grants which consisted of the local banks, Main Street, Chamber of Commerce, and Chillicothe Industrial Development Authority. We disbursed funds to over 100 businesses in an amount in excess of $700,000 to businesses and organization that were adversely affected by affective closure in March and April. I personally talked to all of these 100 plus businesses and from what I have learned we disbursed business grants sooner than any other county in the state and our county is considered the model for helping business across the state. Additionally, we gave out $240,000 to our county schools for distance learning help and frequent cleaning needs. And of course, additional funds have been used for testing, masks and first responder needs too. The point is that I want business and schools to succeed. Like many of you I am very much aware of what is being done in other states and towns where businesses have been forced to close, schools have been closed, people are required to stay at home and law enforcement has arrested people for violations. I do not want what has been done in these places to be done in our county and my concern was that if we did not do something to slow down the spread of the disease that there would be pressure from all sides to take some of these dramatic actions that I do not want to see. Therefore, to me the mask mandate is an effort to slow the spread of the disease and help our hospital so that we don’t have to taken more dramatic action like has occurred in other places. (I should note that I also do not think businesses should be categorized as essential and non-essential which has been done at the federal and state levels. To me the person who has their whole life wrapped up in their small business considers that business essential and I do too.)

Some question the effectiveness of masks and I have read many articles on both sides of this issue, however the Center for Disease Control says they are effective and our local hospital representative said the same at the Council meeting. Another concern some have is that a mask mandate hurt business. I suppose it can but on the other hand business can also be by people learning about increasing number of cases and deaths which is what has happened, I’ve personally known four of the 21 deaths in our county and that hits home. Further I think the mask mandate can in some cases work the opposite way and actually help business. I know there are people who want to get out to restaurants and other establishments and are more likely to go if they see masks being worn and some social distancing in effect.

Another legitimate question is the question of violating human freedoms with a mandate which I understand. However, there are examples where we have already done this in society on occasion. A few examples are seat belt laws, helmet laws, hunting vests and smoke free restaurants. Obviously, this can be a slippery slope and so when an action like masks is taken it needs to be considered carefully and on a limited basis.

It should be noted that the mask mandate does not currently have an enforcement action to go along with it. Neither the city or the county has the man power to do this and we did not want to do it either. I believe most people want to follow the law and if our mask usage goes by my estimate from 50% of people wearing masks to 80%, this can be huge in slowing the spread. Along with increase us of masks I’m hoping people will also continue to practice other important behaviors including social distancing, frequent hand washing and avoiding large congested groups.

Finally, I am optimistic that we are nearing the end of this whole ordeal known as Covid-19. The vaccines that are very close to approval are 95% effective which is huge. Flu vaccines are only 40-60% effective. And therapeutics are much better now that they were in March when we didn’t know much about the disease. That means we have a better chance to treat people and save their lives than before -if we have a bed in hospital to take care of them. I am optimistic that in a few short months this very challenging time, to say the least, will be mainly behind us.

In the meantime, to help slow the spread of the disease and free up hospital rooms and help ensure that more stringent policies do not occur please consider wearing a mask. Thank you.

Ed Douglas is the presiding commissioner of Livingston County.