KINGMAN — Mohave County Director of Public Health Denise Burley says masks alone won’t stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
But she did say they should be “another tool in our arsenal to reduce the transmission spead.”
Mohave County supervisors on Thursday stopped short of making a countywide mandate for masks — a proclamation sought by Burley as the county’s case count continues to swell. They did, however, approve on a 3-2 vote a mandate for county employees and the public to wear face coverings within county buildings when social distancing is difficult to maintain.
Burley, noting that the cities of Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City and Kingman had adopted emergency orders requiring the wearing of face coverings in many situations, had asked the county to follow suit.
“I know that there’s been a lot of information shared about masks, on both sides here,” she said while addressing the board at Thursday’s special meeting in Kingman. “There is definitely a growing body of evidence to show the efficacy of wearing a mask out in public and reducing that transmission.”
There have been conflicting statements on the effectiveness of masks throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t recommend the general public wear masks. But since those statements in March and April, both organizations have modified their guidance.
On June 6, WHO said, in part, “WHO has updated its guidance to advise that to prevent COVID-19 transmission effectively in areas of community transmission, governments should encourage the general public to wear masks in specific situations and settings as part of a comprehensive approach to suppress (COVID-19) transmission.”
Burley agreed with the assessment that wearing masks isn’t the only action needed by the public.
“As I’ve mentioned before, it is not a replacement for social distancing; it’s not a replacement for staying home if you’re sick; it’s not a replacement for good hygiene,” she said. “All of those things play a role in reducing the transmission and all of those steps have to be considered and taken if we’re going to make some progress here.”
After making her case, noting that she has heard from “a number of people” who wanted a countywide mask mandate, she formally asked the supervisors to take action.
“I would ask that the county consider adopting their own proclamation, a requirement for masks out in the community,” she said. “I think it’s important. It offers us, again, another tool in our arsenal to reduce the transmission spread. I think the evidence that’s existing in this science of COVID is demonstrating that it has an effect, and it does reduce transmission.”
Before any motions were made, Jean Bishop, chairman of the board of supervisors, cited two pieces of correspondence she had received, one from both sides of the mask issue. One, from a constituent, asked the board not to adopt any mandates, questioning the effectiveness of masks and saying it should be the “sole discretion” of the person or business. The other, from a director of an unspecified county department, asked for the mandate because some employees were “having trouble getting on board” with the recommendation.
Sup. Gary Watson made the motion — the only one involving masks — that county employees unable to social distance wear masks while on the job. Sup. Buster Johnson seconded the motion.
“So if one of our employees says no, what will happen to him?” asked Sup. Hildy Angius. “Shouldn’t the directors of the department make the decision then? Didn’t we actually kind of do that?”
Burley, who earlier told that board that the health department had adopted its own protocol for the wearing of masks, said that her department’s measures were vetted and approved by the human resources department.
“There’s a lot of reasons people can’t weark masks ...” Angius said. “I just think there’s a million reasons not to do it. And I’m not ging to vote yes on doing that.”
After a comment on social distancing, she added, “You’re telling me that they’re not doing that already? That they need another motion by us?”
Bishop repeated that a director of a department had asked for the proclamation because of pushback from employees, that there has been difficulty getting some employees to comply without “specific regulations from this board.”
Deputy County Attorney Ryan Esplin noted that city proclamations included exceptions and exemptions for wearing masks. He cited Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady’s proclaimation as an example: it has a number of categories for exceptions, including children, people with health issues that preclude covering the face and other cases for exemptions.
Watson amended his original motion to include exceptions — none were spelled out specifically — and Johbnson again provided the second.
Watson, Johnson and Bishop voted in favor of the motion; Angius and Sup. Ron Gould voted against it.
There was no mention of when the county policy would go into effect, nor was there any mention of enforcement or penalties for noncompliance.