As the debate over masks swirls around public meetings, especially with the Georgetown City Council, there is some information that must be shared.

Two members of the Georgetown city administration are extremely immunocompromised and at great risk should either contract the delta variant of COVID-19. Both have heart conditions, and their doctors have urged them to take all necessary precautions.

There is a split on the council regarding masks with council members Karen Tingle-Sames and Connie Tackett saying the masks are a personal choice.

Council member Willow Hambrick felt so threatened at the last council meeting when Tingle-Sames declined to wear a mask that she left the meeting. Tackett was not at the meeting as she was in Florida.

This virus is real, and it is attacking at a velocity that is even greater than the original COVID-19. While there are some breakthrough cases of vaccinated individuals contracting the delta variant, for the most part it is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. As of mid-week, of the 18 people hospitalized locally, only one was vaccinated.  

But for those of us with severe underlying medical issues such as cancer, COPD, heart conditions, organ transplants, etc. this recent surge brings with it a deadly component that cannot be overemphasized. 

Wearing a mask is an inconvenience, but it is not hard to do. As Scott County Superintendent-Elect Billy Parker said when speaking to the chamber of commerce, wearing a mask is a small effort towards protecting the safety of students and staff. This week, Parker acknowledged that if the school system had not required masks, in-person classes would not be possible, pointing out other school systems that have already had to close due to COVID outbreaks.

In this pandemic, some of our actions protect ourselves but they also protect others. Compassion is a quality we should want in our leaders.

Mayor Tom Prather is wrestling with what steps need to be taken regarding future council meetings. Tingle-Sames has indicated she will not wear a mask, and other members of the council and city administration have indicated they want all possible safety measures taken. Dr. Crystal Miller, WEDCO’s public health director, is encouraging masks and social distancing. So is the Centers for Disease Control. The Scott County Public Library where the city has moved its meetings to allow for social distancing requires masks.

Perhaps we can make a suggestion. 

Masks should be worn. The mayor cannot mandate such a measure, but it should be very strongly encouraged for everyone’s sake. For those council members who do not feel it necessary to wear a mask, then they should be asked to attend via Zoom. That would allow the meetings to remain in-person, allowing access to the public who wishes to cooperate via wearing a mask and social distancing. This would also allow those who feel it is a “personal choice” not to wear a mask to participate without unnecessarily putting the health of others at risk or compromising their beliefs.

Of course, this would require some cooperation and compromise, but that, too, is a quality we should all want in a leader. The other option is for the meetings to return to Zoom.

If the majority of the council is willing to wear a mask in order to continue in-person meetings, then that is what should happen, and those who are unwilling to wear a mask should be able to attend from home via Zoom.

Even so, if the recent surge in COVID cases continues, this may be a moot issue anyway. We should all be willing to do whatever it takes to get this pandemic back under control. The consequences, otherwise, are too dire.

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