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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Commissioners abdicate leadership on Covid

The immense gulf between conventional public health guidance to combat the spread of the coronavirus and the view of a vocal minority opposing masks and vaccinations has been displayed in dramatic fashion at meetings of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners and the School Board these past three months.

The Lightning has devoted acres of space printing verbatim quotes from speakers peddling misinformation on masks and vaccines so that readers will know what their elected leaders are hearing.
At meetings of the Board of Commissioners, these speakers greatly outnumber any voice defending the most widely accepted standards for disease prevention, which falls to Public Health Director Steve Smith, Emergency Services Director Jimmy Brissie and schools Superintendent John Bryant.
Commissioners could raise their voice to advocate for, or at least defend, public health guidance offered by the CDC, the state Department of Health and Human Services and their own public health department. They have not. Instead, they have responded with deafening silence or made decisions that are a de facto endorsement of the speech that characterizes the entire Covid-19 response as a dangerous government overreach.
Commissioner David Hill thinks the response ought to be the same as is routinely practiced for the common flu, with no mask requirement in the schools and no push for vaccines. Rebecca McCall, the board vice chair, implored the School Board to look at successful mask-optional school districts in South Carolina, which last week reported one of the highest case rates in the nation. Instead of advancing the cause to fight the spread of Covid-19, commissioners have impeded it, adopting an official resolution in June that barred the health department from spending money to promote vaccines. The vote came at the infamous board meeting that YouTube deleted because of the flagrant medical misinformation spread by a parade of angry speakers.

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The School Board has been the scene of more balance. When an overflow crowd of parents wearing UNMASK OUR KIDS T-shirts filled the meeting room on Aug. 2, the School Board voted 5-2 to make masks optional. A week later, a moms-led uprising filled those seats again to beg the board to protect their children by reversing the mask optional call. It did. On Monday night, either side jousted over the mask issue, an angry teacher publicly resigned over policies that “infringed upon my rights and impeded my ability to follow my moral obligation” and Congressman Madison Cawthorn showed to falsely blame school mask orders on Gov. Roy Cooper.
“This School Board did the right thing by voting to stop Roy Cooper’s mask mandate,” he said. “But our tyrant governor decided he was going to trample on this board’s decision, flex his political muscle and run roughshod over the will of our local government — all of you sitting here.”
Not exactly. Cooper has given School Boards the authority to decide the mask issue. It was the School Board, not the governor, that reversed the mask decision.

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Although Daniel Andreotta has opposed masks and vaccination campaigns as steadfastly as his four colleagues, the commissioner made a timely and worthwhile appeal last week on behalf of care givers.
“They’ve been stretched thin,” he said. “They’re drained. They’ve worked overtime, they’ve lost patients. I’m hearing more that a lot of them are reaching their mental and emotional limit. Keep those folks in your prayers.”
Neither Andreotta nor any of his colleagues seem to recognize that they can do more than most of us to help these overworked, exhausted and beleaguered physicians, nurses, CNAs and housekeepers. They could endorse the use of face-coverings where people closely congregate. They could unshackle the health department so it can promote vaccines. They could stand up for public health nurses, the staff of the county-owned hospital, the EMS corps, the school nurses and all the rest of the life savers. They could stand up to the angry mob and publicly dismiss their wild conspiracies. They could. But they won’t. Meanwhile, Covid patients fill hospital beds and ICUs and the death toll mounts.