Warren County Supervisors discuss masks, vaccines due to surge in COVID cases

Published 3:57 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Warren County Board of Supervisors on Monday discussed the potential need for a mask mandate for employees and a potential COVID-19 vaccine requirement as the delta variant spreads through the area.

While no decision was made, the board discussed various facets of the latest chapter in the pandemic and how to mitigate further illness and death among county workers and those on county property. District 5 Supervisor Kelle Barfield presented one option for a policy, which detailed the removal of masks as an incentive for those who have been vaccinated.

“It covers, first of all, any requirements we make for the wearing of masks. Basically, it stops short of requiring vaccinations or requiring proof of vaccinations, unless you want to opt out of wearing a mask,” she said. “That’s consistent with what other employers are doing. It also addresses when you should not come to work, when you can return to work and this notion of quarantine.”

The proposed policy also made it clear that any Warren County employee who tests positive for COVID-19 must use their personal sick time and is not eligible for any paid leave.

District 1 Supervisor Ed Herring expressed doubt about any additional regulations, saying these policies might not be implemented if it were another illness instead of COVID.

“I hate to beat a dead horse, but I keep saying, we get so hung up on the word ‘COVID,’ we forget about pneumonia, we forget about the flu, we forget about these other respiratory or contagious diseases, and we treat them differently,” Herring said. “This playbook only applies if you have COVID. We forget to use it if they have pneumonia or the flu. That’s where I get frustrated. We’re willing to spread a stomach virus or everything else, but if we say COVID, we shut the damn world down. You hear those five little letters and everything changes.”

Board President and District 4 Supervisor Dr. Jeff Holland expressed concerns about using the removal of masks as an incentive for employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The reason, Holland said, was that one shouldn’t get the shot for the sole reason of being able to go maskless — that one receives the shot “so they don’t die” of COVID-19. Monday marked the first supervisor meeting in weeks in which Holland wore a mask over his nose and mouth.

“Asymptomatic vaccinated people shed the virus in similar means to the way that unvaccinated people do, or transmit it,” Holland said. “They don’t transmit it as strongly, because the worst version of it is the eight-to-one transmission rate that’s now in the literature for unvaccinated people. It’s like, half the rate that vaccinated people transmit the virus. They’re usually completely asymptomatic.”

Another option discussed by the supervisors was implementing a short universal mask requirement for all people on county property, likely for a period of four to six weeks.

District 3 Supervisor Shawn Jackson proposed the idea of a shortened mask mandate as delta variant cases continue to spike, and also proposed a vaccine drive for county employees. This renewed push for vaccines and masks came after a “scary” experience over the last couple of weeks, Jackson revealed.

She had previously gone without masks in recent weeks but had been absent from the last couple of meetings. On Monday, Jackson was wearing a mask over her nose and mouth.

“I didn’t wear masks (once we lifted mask mandates). But I feel totally different now. To have to wear a mask for the next month or whatever it is, I’m down with it,” Jackson said. “That was scary.

“I had it before we knew COVID was COVID, coming out of the 2019 election. That was the closest I’ve ever come to dying in my life. What I had last week is nothing compared to the real COVID I had, where I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “That’s why I wasn’t wearing masks; I thought I had the antibodies. If I haven’t gotten antibodies from that, then what could I have gotten it from? ”

Holland made it clear that, in his opinion, few people will be willing to return to wearing masks at all times in public.

“For me, my suggestion is that everybody should wear a mask, and you shouldn’t get a ‘no mask free’ card just because you’re vaccinated,” Holland said. “Delta will go down because it spikes and goes back down. People are not going to wear masks for another six months.”

The board will discuss this matter further at its next meeting on Monday, Aug. 16 at 9:30 a.m. at the Warren County Courthouse.