By Mike McCombs
Even for a Beaufort County Council meeting, this one was out there.
The end result Monday night was Beaufort County Administrator Eric Greenway announcing that Beaufort County employees and visitors would be required to wear masks in all county buildings beginning Tuesday before the Council had even voted on its COVID ad hoc committee’s recommendations to Greenway, which included that same mask policy.
As the Council debated the list of recommendations, discussing in particular whether or not to separate the controversial mask requirement from the other recommendations, it became clear it had become an exercise in futility.
“There’s nothing on this list that the county administrator doesn’t have the unilateral authority to do. So whether we pass this or do not pass this, the county administrator can do any of those items on this list. So I’m not sure why it’s important that we do this,” Councilman Paul Sommerville said. “If we take it off, he can still consider it. If we leave it on, he can still consider it. So I’m not sure what this accomplishes. Where we are now, if we pass this or not, the county administrator has the absolute authority to to any of the things or not.”
The Council voted on separating the mask requirement from the other recommendations to Greenway. Only Brian Flewelling, Logan Cunningham and Mark Lawson were in favor.
“If what Mr. Sommerville said is true, then what is the point of the group?” Councilman Logan Cunningham asked. “There’s no point in any of this. If he had this ability the whole time, I don’t know if that’s true or not, then what is the point of the entire ad hoc group? It’s completely irrelevant.”
Flewelling called the recommendations “redundant” and “ridiculous,” and questioned if the point was “looking for some kind of publicity.”
Cunningham, in what he promised were his final comments on the topic, said he could only assume from the signs already being put in place outside the building that the mask requirement was going to happen.
And that’s when Greenway stood up and told Cunningham he was correct.
“Tomorrow morning, effective at 8 o’ clock, any county employee or any member of the public that enters a county building or property will be expected to wear a mask. Those masks must adhere to CDC guidelines. There will be kiosks provided with other PPE. There will be gloves and sanitizer for anybody that wants to use those as well,” Greenway said over objections from several members of the public in attendance. “You’re exactly right. We have to get ready because we have to put up signage and things like that. We couldn’t wait until the morning to put up signs so those signs started going out today because we have a lot of properties that we have to cover, and me being the planner that I am, we’ve started planning for that to take effect in the morning.
“There will also be an email sent out with a video from me to every employee that will explain as kindly and as gently as I can as to why I feel as the county administrator these steps are necessary. So I appreciate the work of the committee. The committee served to be an advisory function to give me a set of recommendations so it was clear what those recommendations could be after being worked upon. And after reviewing those recommendations with my team of employees, we decided to implement many of the things on that list. Many of the things on that list we have been doing for nearly two years now. … It’s a very difficult situation. It’s a very difficult situation for me.”
Greenway said there had been 54 COVID cases among Beaufort County Employees, but 32 had come since August. There is one county employee hospitalized right now.
“If there’s any chance that what some people call a piece of cloth can assist me in preventing at least one of these people from having to go through what I’m seeing this one employee go through, I will take that chance,” Greenway said emotionally.
“It’s not your decision,” someone yelled from the gallery.
“It is my place to do it. And I will do it, I have to do it, I must do it,” Greenway responded. “And I would appreciate your understanding. Councilmember Cunningham, I understand you don’t agree with it. I get that. I appreciate that. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I also ask you to put yourself in my particular situation. I have employees that are getting sick. I have employees that are having to quarantine because their children are in the school, and the school has refused to mask up. It’s a difficult situation.”
“You should resign,” a member of the public said as Greenway finished. “Tyrant,” shouted another.
Even after Greenway announced the coming mask requirement, a vote was still held on passing the complete list of recommendations on to the administrator.
Once again, Flewelling, Cunningham and Lawson objected, and the measure passed 7-3.
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.
LATEST COVID NUMBERS
There were 4,269 new confirmed and probable COVID cases reported statewide on Tuesday, and the state’s rolling seven-day average sits at 4,443. There were 43 deaths.
There were 109 new confirmed and probable cases reported Tuesday in Beaufort County. Beaufort County’s seven-day average of new cases is 128.6.
There were nine COVID deaths in Beaufort County from Sept. 5 through Sept. 11.
As of Tuesday evening, there were 58 COVID patients in Beaufort Memorial Hospital, down from an all-time high 60 on Monday. Just seven of those 58 are not vaccinated.
A dozen patients are in the ICU and a dozen are on ventilators. Only a single vaccinated patient is in the ICU and on a ventilator.
– Staff reports