SWEETWATER COUNTY — The Sweetwater County Commissioners discussed a resolution during their meeting on Tuesday that would require all county employees and the public to wear face coverings while inside county facilities.
The commissioners all agreed that while encouraging the use of face coverings is important to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, it would be difficult to enforce and that it infringes on the county residents’ rights.
Commissioner Wally Johnson said that the public owns the county buildings and the commission works for the public. Therefore, he said the public and employees should have the freedom to choose to wear or not to wear face coverings while accessing county buildings.
Gary McLean, County Human Resources Director, said the county has received “significant concerns” from stakeholders, such as figures in the local mineral industries, about keeping their workers safe. While they said they are doing everything they can to keep workers safe while at work, they are exposed to infection and possible need for quarantine while away from work.
Fred von Ahrens, Vice President for Manufacturing at Genesis Alkali sent an email for the County Resident Concerns portion of the meeting in which he encouraged the commissioners to approve the resolution, and even possibly look at enforcing the use of face coverings in all public spaces throughout the county where social distancing is not possible.
He said Genesis Alkali has had several employees who have had to quarantine, and this can cause issues in production and possible negative effects on the local economy.
Three other county residents also wrote in expressing their disagreement with the resolution, saying the use of face coverings should be left up to individual preference.
McLean said that currently, the county facilities have a “voluntary recommendation” to wear face coverings. When the county buildings first reopened to the public in May, 50-70 percent of the public entering county buildings were utilizing face coverings.
As of Wednesday, July 1, 20 percent of residents entering county buildings were utilizing face coverings, and 27 percent on Thursday, July 2.
County Attorney Recommendations for Resolution Wording
John DeLeon, Deputy County Attorney, said it is Sweetwater County Attorney Daniel Erramouspe’s recommendation to change the wording in the resolution so it is not mandatory but rather “discretionary in nature”.
The current wording of who the resolution is subject to is as follows:
- All public coming into a county building will have and wear a face covering while in the building.
- All county personnel will have and wear a face covering while in county buildings, unless they are in their office or another area isolated from other county personnel and public.
- County personnel traveling throughout the county in the performance of their duties shall have and wear a face covering any time they are in contact with the public or other employees.
DeLeon said Erramouspe’s recommendation would be to change “will have and wear” in each paragraph to “will be asked to wear”. This recommendation for the County Attorney’s Office is due to enforcement issues, as the door attendants would be responsible for enforcing the use of face coverings. In addition, the requirement to wear face coverings would go beyond the State Health Officer’s orders, DeLeon said.
Another recommendation is to include that alternatives will be provided to the public who do not want to wear face coverings so they can still accomplish the same goals while at county buildings without the face coverings. Alternatives could include maintaining social distancing, aiding the individual in completing the task online, or other options.
Finding a Balance
Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld said science shows that asymptomatic individuals can spread COVID-19, and therefore the use of face coverings should be encouraged. However, she agreed enforcing it would be difficult.
She also said some people say individuals with underlying health conditions who are more vulnerable to the virus can stay home, but she noted that staying home and feeling locked up can come with high risks for mental health.
“If we don’t do something, we’re going to end up with another spike and it’s going to severely affect our economy more than it already has,” Schoenfeld said.
She added it is important to keep local businesses running as close to normal as possible, and that requires taking extra precautions such as wearing face coverings or upholding social distancing.
Commissioner Jeff Smith said it is his personal opinion that wearing face coverings is beneficial, but he was not sure enforcing it is the best practice. This was the general consensus of the commission.
“Striking that balance is important,” Schoenfeld said of enforcing and encouraging the use of face coverings.
Commissioner Johnson suggested having McLean and DeLeon revise the resolution and present it again at the next meeting, which will be Tuesday, July 21. The revisions will make the resolution discretionary rather than mandatory.
The commissioners all agreed to revise the resolution and revisit it at the next meeting.
Chairman Randy “Doc” Wendling concluded the discussion by giving recent stats of COVID-19 in Sweetwater County. He said as of Monday, July 6, at 9:31 am, there were 102 positive cases of COVID-19 in the county. As of June 22, Sweetwater County had 48 positive cases, Wendling said. This means cases more than doubled in two weeks.
As of Tuesday, July 7, 10 more cases have been reported, which Wendling said is being attributed to Fourth of July celebrations.
“The data supports doing something,” Wendling said.