If you’re one of the people who believes that Guilford County’s monolithic mask mandate is an excessive response to the current COVID-19 threat level, then you no doubt liked what Republican Commissioner Justin Conrad had to say at the board’s Thursday, Oct. 21 meeting.

Conrad, who in August voted against Guilford County’s mandate requiring masks for people indoors at public places, attacked the mandate on several fronts at the meeting. 

He said county officials weren’t following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines and said that the criteria being used by the county was too restrictive given current scientific guidance.

 Conrad added that the county’s stated vaccination goal for lifting the mask mandate was impossible at any time in the foreseeable future due to a recent vaccine rule change that greatly expands the pool of those eligible for vaccination.

Conrad has submitted a formal request to the clerk to the board that the commissioners hold a hearing on the matter at the board’s next meeting.

The board’s late August motion that established the county’s mask mandate stated, “It is also the Board’s intention to reevaluate this Rule as circumstances change, including if and when the County’s vaccination rate reaches 70% or its positivity rate is at or below 5% for 3 consecutive weeks.”

At the Oct. 21 meeting, Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne pointed out that the commissioners aren’t constrained by any previously adopted conditions.  Payne said that, should the board choose to do so, it could do away with the mandate even if certain conditions haven’t been met.

In one comment that turned some heads of those watching the meeting, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said the mask mandate will be used to protect people in the county even if it takes “until May or June of next year.”

The original mandate is set to time out in early January, but Alston has made it clear several times that the board will continue the mandate if the community’s virus conditions aren’t satisfactory.

Conrad said Alston and others behind the mandate were not basing their decisions on facts or CDC advice.

“There’s no science behind this,” Conrad said after the meeting, “They had no rebuttal at all.”

Conrad also said that an apt headline for an article on the current situation could be, “Local Democrats Know More Than The CDC And State Health Department.” 

He said the state did away with a mask mandate earlier this year and the CDC stressed keeping community positivity rates at under 8 percent – not the restrictive 5 percent the county is following.

Conrad said that, if the county actually followed CDC guidelines, the positivity rate at current levels would lead the board to remove the mandate.

“The CDC says the elevated status number is 8 percent,” he said, adding that he wonders why Guilford County has been fixated on 5 percent.

He also said it was interesting that the other Democratic commissioners who voted for the mandate earlier this year didn’t come to the aid of Alston during the debate at the meeting.  Instead, Conrad said, they sat by and remained largely silent.

In August, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners adopted a mandatory mask mandate for the county on a 6-to-3 vote. The board’s two Republicans, along with one Democratic commissioner – James Upchurch – voted against the mandate.  The board’s other Democratic commissioners voted for it.

Conrad added that the county won’t hit  a 70 percent vaccination rate by the end of the year. 

“There’s no possible way it will happen,” he said.

The 70 percent goal is a percentage of those eligible to get the vaccine and, Conrad pointed out, now a large group of younger recipients has been added to the pool of those eligible for vaccination – so it will be much harder to achieve a 70 percent vaccination rate. 

“We’re adding another, what, 8 percent of the population that will be eligible,” Conrad said, “and it will take at least eight to nine weeks if everybody went at once for the other people to be vaccinated.  That can’t happen.”

Conrad said the county and state were much better off now than when the state lifted most restrictions this summer.

Alston stated that, no matter what the CDC’s advice is for the country as a whole, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners has to make local decisions about what is or isn’t safe in this county based the prevailing situation.