GREENSBORO — Masks don’t work. That was the message from some Thursday night at a meeting of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
The comments came three days after Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston declared an emergency mask mandate for all unincorporated areas because of a startling spike in COVID-19 cases across Guilford County.
During the virtual meeting’s public speaking period, one man summed up the sentiments of other speakers when he said: “You’re using masks as a political tool to ... suppress the public. You make your choice, I make mine. Personal liberty. May God have mercy on your soul for what you’ve done to our youth.”
Republican Commissioner James Upchurch, who served for a year as a Democrat until he changed parties late last year, questioned county Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann about whether mask mandates work.
He first asked her what comparable counties have such mandates and she named Wake, Mecklenburg and Buncombe.
Then Upchurch asked why COVID-19 infection rates are higher in those counties than Guilford despite the mandates.
Vann said she wasn’t sure, but some reasons could be that the impact of Guilford County’s previous mandate, which was lifted in mid-November, may have had a positive, residual impact. Also, the other counties may have held more frequent public events that spread the virus more quickly.
“I think that everybody on this call needs to look at that and start asking some questions,” Upchurch said.
Following that, Alston seemed to apologize to Vann for Upchurch’s interrogation: “We know that there’s no direct answer you can give to that. All of it can be speculation. I hate that you have to go off on these kind of wild goose chases and find no answers to the questions. But here we are. We can only speculate. We’re gonna do what we think is best for Guilford County and not to take into consideration what those other counties are doing.”
Vann said earlier that more than 200 people are hospitalized with the coronavirus in Guilford County and that health experts believe the number could rise to as many as 600 before the worst of the surge, driven by the omicron variant of the disease, eventually subsides.
Later, Republican Commissioner Justin Conrad suggested that Vann read a report that quoted White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci saying mask mandates don’t reduce hospitalizations and deaths.
Alston seemed further perturbed and said he didn’t call Fauci for advice about the situation. Instead, he talked to local health leaders.
“We can make our decision based on what they say. If you don’t believe what they say then you can vote accordingly,” he said.
The vote Alston foreshadowed was one that commissioners are expected to take on Jan. 13, when they will meet in their role as the Board of Health to consider a mask order that also includes the county’s municipalities, most of which currently are doing their own thing.
Republicans are clearly laying the groundwork to oppose the mandate as they have in the past. With Upchurch’s vote, Alston will only be able to count on the six Democratic commissioners to approve a mandate. He needs a simple majority of five.
Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.