It’s to be expected in the politically charged world of Guilford County politics that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners will frequently vote 5-to-4 along straight party lines.
However, what some might not expect is for the issue of wearing masks at the time of the coronavirus to break down along those same lines. But that’s what has happened in the current pandemic. The four Democratic commissioners wear masks to meetings and work sessions while the five Republican commissioners do not.
Commissioner Skip Alston said this week that it’s crazy that wearing or not wearing a mask has seemingly become a political issue.
“You’re talking about someone’s health – it shouldn’t be partisan,” Alston said.
Alston has even had masks custom-made; “SKIP” is stitched across the front of his masks.
Since the start of the pandemic, Alston has stayed on his Republican rivals on the issue in a very public way. At the board’s Thursday, May 21 meeting – and at a budget work session two days before that – Democrats wore masks and Republicans did not.
Republican Commissioner Justin Conrad, who was sitting far away from anyone at the May 21 meeting, says he does wear masks when proximity to others is unavoidable. However, at the meeting – where he was sitting off the dais at a temporary table – there was no need.
“There’s no one near me,” he said, pointing to all the space around him in every direction.
When Conrad was asked about Alston’s custom-made monogrammed masks, Conrad responded, “Oh, yeah, I’m sure that’s about safety.”
Alston’s healthy ego has been known to come into play at times in county politics.
The masks also do make it hard for commissioners to be understood when they’re talking – so even Alston will sometimes pull his mask down to speak when he wants to make sure his point is heard.
Some of the Republican commissioners are strong and vocal supporters of President Donald Trump, and Trump is known for not wearing masks.
Commissioner Hank Henning said that currently the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls for wearing masks in public, but he said he has virtually quit listening to the CDC because they’ve been all over the place on many issues and their predictions and advice change almost daily.
“Now the advice is to wear masks – before it was not to,” Henning said. “And they have a new model all the time.”
He said they’ll come out with a predictive model and then, when that one proves to be completely off, they’ll release another model that proves to be equally off the mark – so they will keep putting out new ones.
When the pandemic began, the CDC and other health officials actively and repeatedly implored the public not to wear masks. Health officials stated that the masks weren’t effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, that they became collection points for germs after being worn a few times, that they created a false sense of security that led to less social distancing and that they caused people to touch their faces more often since wearers would frequently adjust their masks.