Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioner’s Skip Alston used his powers as the county’s leader to implement a new mask mandate in unincorporated Guilford County.  

However, if Alston wants to extend that requirement to the majority of the population in the county, he’ll need the support of the majority of the nine-member Board of Commissioners – and, by all appearances, the mandate is highly unpopular among county residents, especially Republican leaders.

The mandate, which took effect on Wednesday, Jan. 5, is similar to a previous mandate the Board of Commissioners passed in late summer of 2021 that required everyone in the county to wear masks while indoors at public places like stores, bars, clubs, restaurants and music venues, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Republican Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad voted against the mask mandate previously and said this week he’ll vote against it again if the motion is made. Conrad said the mandate Alston just put in place is strange because, while it does apply to unincorporated Guilford County, the majority of the county’s population isn’t affected.  Four small towns – Gibsonville, Sedalia, Pleasant Garden and Jamestown – have also implemented the new mandate, Conrad said, but he noted that, by virtue of the fact that Greensboro, High Point and most of the county’s other key population centers are opting out, the mandate only affects a small percentage of the people in the county.

Guilford County has a population of about 541,000, and Greensboro has roughly 300,000 of those people while High Point is home to about 114,000.

Oak Ridge Town Councilmember George McClellan said that Alston’s move was highly irrational.

“What a mess,” he said, noting that he was “absolutely opposed” to what he called “a sign of insanity” – since, he said, mask wearing is not effective but political leaders keep going back to it as a strategy.

Commissioner James Upchurch has also argued repeatedly that the move isn’t effective, however, Alston said this week that county health officials and area medical leaders have assured him it’s a very effective tool against the spread of COVID-19 and is something that’s needed right now.  Upchurch said after Alston’s mask mandate went into effect said that he’d contacted other commissioners in an attempt to persuade them to oppose a move that would make the mask mandate apply everywhere in Guilford County.  

McClellan said Alston had the power to make the move single-handedly for unincorporated Guilford County, but added. “Just because you’ve got the power doesn’t mean you have to use it.  Every town in Northwest Guilford County is against it.”

Former Republican Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson, who, like McLellan is running for a seat on the Board of Commissioners this year, said he suspects some smaller towns felt pressure to go along because Alston will have a large say as to how millions of dollars of infrastructure money from the federal government are spent.  Branson said Pleasant Garden wants more water infrastructure and all the small towns are hoping to see a good chunk of the federal funds recently approved to improve broadband internet service in underserved areas.

On Facebook and other social media sites, the reaction to the new mandate appears solidly opposed.

Conrad said he’s worried Alston has the votes to make the mandate apply in all cities and towns as well as in unincorporated parts of Guilford County. 

That vote may be coming at a Board of Commissioners meeting scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 13.

“I usually don’t agree with Skip’s position on the issues, but he’s an excellent politician,” Conrad said, adding that it would be very rare for Alston to make a move like this if Alston weren’t confident he had convinced a majority of the board to go along.