The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
The timing, that is, of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners’ mandatory training on how to be a board of health rather than a board of commissioners. On Thursday, Aug. 5, Guilford County Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann, Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne and other county staff led the commissioners through the ins and outs of being a member of a county board of health.
The commissioners find themselves in a very interesting position these days because the board is now doing double duty – the work of the commissioners and also of the Guilford County Board of Health. That second job for the commissioners doesn’t usually matter that much. However, it turns out it has great consequences in a COVID-19 pandemic when a host of major and far-reaching decisions are made by the board every month.
If a giant pandemic had hit a decade ago, the former Guilford County Board of Health would have been front and center in the battle, and that board would be advising the Board of Commissioners on actions such as making masks mandatory, establishing curfews, vaccination policies, etc.
The former health board had some powers on its own and had other powers that had to be signed off on by the Board of Commissioners.
However, about seven years ago, the then Republican-led board of commissioners voted to do away with the Guilford County Board of Public Health.
On Aug. 5, the board breezed through about an hour and 15 minutes of training. At the meeting/class, Vann explained the ins of outs of NC general statutes as those apply to the powers and duties of the health board.
Attorney Mark Payne also chimed in when legal aspects got complicated.
One lesson the board learned in the class is that, when it comes to taking action on health threats, the county can be “more stringent” than the state, but not less so. Also, those actions must be “reasonable and must not discriminate.”
The board – since it is the Board of Health – gets regular updates on health conditions, policies and programs in Guilford County.
During the Aug. 5 class, the board also learned that the county’s health services must provide “access to all,” have translators available for those who do not speak English and must, ultimately, oversee numerous inspection responsibilities such as those for water and restaurants.
The stated goal of the Guilford County Board of Health is to “protect and promote public health.”