The Mercury (Pottstown, PA)

Masks back in county buildings

Commission­ers make move due to local rise in infections

- By Karen Shuey kshuey@readingeag­le.com @KarenShuey­RE on Twitter

“I’m torn on making this decision. I understand that people have very strong opinions on the whole COVID issue. And we even have different opinions ourselves.”

— Commission­er Christian Leinbach

With new COVID-19 infections on the rise locally and statewide, Berks County officials decided Tuesday to shift back to requiring masks in county facilities.

Effective Monday, all visitors and employees in county government buildings must wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease regardless of one’s vaccinatio­n status.

The proposal to reinstate the mask mandate was crafted by Chief Administra­tive Officer Ronald Seaman after discussion­s with several members of the COVID Leadership Team.

Brian Gottschall, director of the county emergency services department, told the commission­ers Tuesday that the severity of rising COVID cases made this move necessary to help limit the renewed spread that has emerged from the delta variant.

“It is our joint recommenda­tion that the county reinstitut­e the practice of requiring face coverings in all county facilities for employees and visitors, irrespecti­ve of the individual’s vaccinatio­n status,” he said. “We believe that face coverings should be worn anytime an individual is in a public space where it is reasonably possible they would encounter another individual.”

Following that recommenda­tion, the board unanimousl­y voted to reinstate the mask mandate throughout its facilities.

But the decision was not made without some consternat­ion voiced by Commission­ers Christian Leinbach and Michael Rivera. The two Republican officials said they were wary of imposing the policy once again and frustrated with the lack of guidance from state and federal health officials.

“I’m torn on making this decision,” Leinbach said. “I understand that people have very strong opinions on the whole COVID issue. And we even have different opinions ourselves.”

But, he said, the informatio­n clearly shows the number of COVID cases is rising and that Berks is now considered to be a county where substantia­l spread is happening.

“What I struggle with in this role is that we are the ones that have to make the decision relative to county facilities and there seems to me that there is a responsibi­lity — if not an outright liability — in any decision I make that considers the health and welfare of our employees and the public,” he said.

Leinbach said he asked himself two questions before making his decision: What are the downsides of having to wear a mask? And what are potential benefits of having to wear a mask?

In the end, he said he believes the scientific research makes clear that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks of having to wear a face covering.

“Politicall­y, no masks,” he said. “But I can’t make a decision that’s based on politics, so I’m going to support the decision to go ahead and reinstitut­e the mask policy in county buildings. That’s my responsibi­lity. That’s what I signed up for when I became a county commission­er to make the tough decisions. And I believe that is the right decision for me to make.”

Rivera said he had given the proposal a lot of thought as well and came to the same conclusion.

“I wish we could all just get rid of our masks and go on with life as normal,” he said. “But I think at this point it’s the best thing to do, and I’m hoping that we can get through this as soon as possible.”

Rivera said the possible benefit of protecting those who work for the county and those who use county services from getting COVID is greater than the inconvenie­nces that face coverings pose.

 ?? BEN HASTY — MEDIANEWS GROUP ?? With new COVID-19 infections on the rise locally and statewide, Berks County officials decided Tuesday to shift back to requiring masks in county facilities.
BEN HASTY — MEDIANEWS GROUP With new COVID-19 infections on the rise locally and statewide, Berks County officials decided Tuesday to shift back to requiring masks in county facilities.

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