With a 3-2 vote this afternoon (Nov. 25), the Jefferson County Health Department Board of Trustees approved a mask order requiring residents to wear face masks while in public spaces when social distancing cannot be maintained.
The requirement, a joint order with county government that is intended to curtail the spread of COVID-19, does not call for any type of fine or penalty for people who violate it.
Health board members voting in favor of the order included Dennis Diehl, who is the board chairman, Tim Pigg and Amber Henry. Board members James Prater and Suzy Davis voted no.
The order goes into effect 12:01 a.m. Friday, Nov. 27, and ends 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21.
It requires residents 10 and older to wear masks in public when they cannot keep 6 feet away from others.
According to the order, face masks must be cloth, fabric or another permeable material without any holes or one-way valves. The mask must cover a person's nose and mouth.
The order includes several exceptions: A mask is not required for people outdoors at least 6 feet from others; people who are exercising at least 6 feet from others; people who are engaging in a sporting activity; people inside a vehicle; people who are eating and drinking at a restaurant or other dining establishment; and people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks.
The special meeting started with three motions to change the agenda.
Pigg made a motion, seconded by Henry, to take Health Department Director Kelley Vollmar’s name off the “new business” portion of the agenda, replacing her name with Diehl’s. The motion passed with a unanimous vote.
Diehl made the second motion, seconded by Prater and approved unanimously, to remove a scheduled closed session from the agenda.
Prater made a motion, seconded by Davis, to remove the vote on the joint order from the agenda, but that motion failed, with only those two voting in favor of it.
Davis made several attempts to delay the vote, but her motions and proposals were nixed by the three-member majority.
Davis said she believed the order would be ineffective in stopping the spread of the virus, and she asked what was wrong with waiting a month or longer to take action.
“We’ve been doing that for six months, Ms. Davis,” Diehl said.
Davis motioned to delete a portion of the order that warns of potential further restrictions if the number of positive COVID-19 cases does not come down within 21 days. Her motion did not receive a second.
Henry stressed that the order is not an ordinance and does not call for enforcement.
“It’s just saying, if you’re near someone out in public, please put a mask on,” Henry said.
At the end of the meeting, Davis said she believed the order will cause fights.
“It’s, honest, not going to reduce the positive cases, mark my words,” Davis said.
The board approved a mandatory mask ordinance in August but revoked it less than 24 hours later, before the ordinance went into effect.
Because of social-distancing requirements, in-person attendance at the meeting was limited to Health Board members and staff and one member of the press. The meeting was live-streamed, however, on the Health Department’s YouTube channel.
About 75 people, many holding signs, gathered outside the Health Department building in Hillsboro prior to the meeting to protest the order.
About 25 people remained outside when the meeting ended, many shouting that they would not comply with the order. One protester called Vollmar a “Nazi communist.”
Diehl said it makes “no sense” to target Vollmar since the order is an action of the board, not paid staff.
Vollmar said the Health Department has tried to leave prevention measures up to personal choice, but that has not worked. COVID-19 has now claimed more than 100 lives of Jefferson County residents and cases are climbing in alarming numbers. By today, the tally showed 11,270 positive cases since numbers were first reported in March.
“This isn’t about restricting individuals; this is about saving lives,” Vollmar said.
She said she hopes the order, which is intended to limit community spread of the virus, will help local businesses stay open.