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County unmoved by soaring virus totals

UPDATE: See breaking news for latest COVID-19 stories published after print deadline.

Staff writer

A new COVID-19 case reported Tuesday evening marked a threefold spike since county commissioners overturned a state mandate to wear masks in public where social distancing is not possible.

The case brings the county total to 35, but the rising COVID-19 total has not persuaded a majority of county commissioners to reconsider their action.

County health administrator Diedre Serene told commissioners Monday that masks were needed.

“I feel that we really need to encourage the public to wear masks,” Serene said. “I think it would help those businesses that are trying to enforce the masks. And at this time I think we should develop some sort of survey.”

Serene said the survey would see what people believe about wearing masks and what county residents want.

Despite commissioner opposition, Serene said she has supported the idea since the governor issued her statewide mandate.

“My stance has not changed,” Serene said. “I’m a firm believer that masks reduce the spread.”

Commissioner Randy Dallke said he thought a mask mandate would help. Dallke is required by his employer’s policy to wear a mask.

But commissioner Kent Becker said if the county upheld the mask mandate, someone could see him in the cab of his tractor without a mask and report him.

The governor’s mandate requires a mask only while in public places where social distancing is not possible. It does not require a mask to be worn at all times.

Becker asked Serene whether she knew how many county residents had been exposed to the virus outside the county, implying the virus was being imported from other areas.

Serene said such information was not available.

Chairman Jonah Gehring, speaking via online conference from a cabin, said he struggled with any kind of mandate.

Serene said studies had proved that masks work to limit spread of the virus.

“That’s my right, too, to be protected from you,” Serene said. “We still don’t know everything about the virus, and that’s what makes it hard.”

Gehring and commissioner Dianne Novak said they had heard that people with the virus who don’t have symptoms are not likely to spread the virus.

Serene said this was still being studied. When one person tests positive and a contact also tests positive, it’s not possible to know which gave it to the other, she said.

Serene defended her department’s practice of releasing only scant information about COVID victims.

She said Marion County should not be compared with larger counties because if she identified ages, residences, and workplaces, it would be easy to deduce who victims are.

Novak has said she considers mask mandates and tracing contacts of people who have the virus to be infringements on people’s rights.

On the other hand, commissioner David Crofoot said after the meeting that he supported the mask mandate.

“I think people should be wearing them, you and me, to try to stop the coronavirus thing,” Crofoot said. “I think the general public is looking to the elected leadership to be leaders and help make the decision to wear masks in public and in businesses, outside the home.”

In just the last five days, nine new cases were reported.

The latest case, reported Tuesday evening, is a man in his 20s who now is in isolation.

Anyone within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for 10 minutes or longer is ordered into quarantine by the county health department.

His case is considered “probable,” meaning he did not have a laboratory test but is known to have been exposed by someone else with the virus.

A man in his 50s was reported Monday. A man and woman in their 40s and a teenage girl were confirmed Sunday. A man in his 80s was confirmed Saturday. A boy younger than 10 and a girl between 10 and 17 were confirmed Friday.

Last modified July 23, 2020

 

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