Debate continues over mandatory mask resolutions in Beaufort County

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BEAUFORT COUNTY, SC (WSAV) – DHEC’S latest metrics show Beaufort County is in the “high” category for COVID-19 cases and transmission.

It’s one of the reasons the towns of Bluffton and Hilton Head as well as the City of Beaufort will vote next week on a mandatory mask policy for their towns.

A policy discussion that may have been spurred on by Beaufort Memorial Hospital’s CEO.

“I don’t know if my letter was intended to be widely published but I’m glad it had the intended effect,” said Russell Baxley.

Russell Baxley wrote in his letter that the only way to avoid overwhelming the hospital, stop the surge, and avoid another shutdown is to create a universal mask policy.

“I was passionate to write the letter because I see what’s happening and I want to protect the staff,” said Baxley. “I want to protect the hospital, I want to protect the community. We should want to keep people out of the hospital.”

The numbers of COVID-19 patients coming to his hospital have gone from a few to 15, 18, and as of Thursday 22 cases.
11 patients admitted. 13 more possible cases also inside.

“Admission and subsequently deaths are a lagging indicator of a rise in COVID-19 so we need to be looking at these positive cases not waiting for the hospital to say we are full,” said Baxley.

“I have one function and that is to protect the health of the community and protect the health of my employees and the only way to do that is to slow this rate down and give us time to breathe again.”

“Government doesn’t need to be in the business of telling us what to wear and what not to wear,” said Michael Covert

While he respects Baxley’s and many medical officials’ opinions, Beaufort County Councilman Michael Covert believes making any policy, including one about masks, is going too far.

“It really comes down to personal responsibility,” said Covert. “If you, person A, believe so much in the mask-wearing then do it. If you own a business and you require employees to wear it, so be it. If you don’t like it go work somewhere else.”

“if you don’t want to eat there because they don’t have masks. Go down the street.”

“Desensitzing ourselves is a recipe for further disaster. We have to build up antibodies for this.”

“It is my responsibility to look out for me and my family,” said Covert. “If that means wearing a mask then that’s what I should do. But where does, where do we say it my opinion or my demand that you and your family have to do this.”

“While we hold that truth dear we need to understand that we are in a true public health crisis right now,” said Baxley. “And how we were able to stop it early on and flatten the curve and now without this universal masking we are going to be right back to where we were.”

While Baxley knows wearing masks won’t eradicate the virus, it could help protect those on the front lines.

“Let’s not continue that trend of some of the other states that have seen their hospitals fill back up. Let’s get ahead of this thing now before we have the difficult conversations about bed capacity and stopping surgeries and everything else.

“Those ER nurses, those physicians, they don’t have a choice in this,” said Baxley. “They are coming to work and fight this every day. If you aren’t doing it for yourself then do it for those on the front lines as first responders, do it for hospitals. Do it for those who are immunocompromised who you may see in the aisles in Publix. or a grocery store or Walmart wherever you may be at and help us stop this new curve help us stop this new surge.”

The South Carolina Attorney General giving clearance for a mandatory mask policy in Greenville this week opened the door for other municipalities to do the same.

While it has been deemed “legal” in the state and the country so far, some groups have already said they plan to challenge the rulings in court.

We will find out what the Hilton Head Town Council feels Monday morning.

Both Bluffton and Beaufort have it on their agendas for Tuesday’s meeting.

The Beaufort County Council has not called a special meeting yet to debate the issue. Their next scheduled meeting is July 13.

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