ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Commission reaffirmed its opposition to government-imposed public health mandates and economic lockdowns on Tuesday as it passed a resolution that puts the collective attitude of the commissioners on the official record.
“We felt like this is something we had to put into writing,” Commissioner Victor Iverson said, adding that county residents have been contacting the commission with concerns about the recent resurgence of the COVID-19 virus.
The resolution carried the title of “Placing trust in individual health decisions and establishing a policy against lockdowns and mask mandates,” and listed various reasons for the commission’s opposition to any government attempts to force public health mandates and related policy.
The following are highlights from the resolution read by Commission Chair Gild Almquist prior to its being unanimously approved.
- “In Washington County we believe that individuals should educate themselves, consult with their personal physicians and make their own health care choices.”
- “Lockdowns have been shown to have negative impacts on economies and individuals’ mental health. Additional lock downs and mask mandates for Washington County are not warranted.”
- “Washington County will not support nor impose any economic lockdowns or mask mandates.”
Encouraging an individual’s right to determine his or her own health choices through education rather than forced compliance was a common theme of the resulting discussion had between county, medical and law enforcement officials.
“It’s always been about personal responsibility,” said Dr. David Blodgett, director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. “We all have had a responsibility to understand what this virus means, what it can mean for others, and what it can mean for those who are exposed to it.”
Providing that education and understanding of the virus to the public has been the goal of the health department from the beginning so they can know how to best protect themselves and others while living the best quality of life possible, Blodgett said.
However, government interference can become a roadblock to that endeavor, he said.
“Often and almost always, it’s too much government interference in that process that doesn’t further that (goal), but makes it much more difficult,” he said.
An argument could be made that the more the government pushed the mask issue, people spent more energy in resisting it rather than learning why wearing a mask may not be a bad idea, the doctor said.
With the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus on the rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations and mask guidelines, which included wearing masks inside public spaces whether you have been vaccinated or not. While those who have received a vaccine aren’t likely to end up hospitalized from the virus, it does not prevent them from being carriers of the virus, according to the CDC, so there is a chance they could still infect others.
As previously reported, the Utah Department of Health has adjusted its own recommendations to match those of the CDC. However, the local health department has chosen not to follow suit.
The state health department also will not be able to enforce any public health mandates because of a law passed by the state Legislature in May.
“Mandates get in the way of good public health policy, which is to inform people on the best way to take care of their own health,” Blodgett said.
While he stressed the individual’s right to choose, Blodgett nonetheless encouraged people to be vaccinated against COVID-19, adding that even with the current spread of the delta variant, the vaccines have shown to be effective in helping keep people out of the hospital. He also reiterated the need for people to become educated on the matter so they can make the best choices themselves.
“If we know people don’t end up in the hospital, they don’t die when they’ve been vaccinated, I think that’s important information to get out,” he said. “Trying to force that issue, I don’t think is appropriate for government, so I’m grateful for the sentiment here.”
Blodgett added that masks also have their place in helping to stop the spread of the virus while also leaving it up to the individual to make the choice of when it feels appropriate to wear one.
One county official who chose to wear a mask was Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, who said he had his own reasons for doing so.
“I fully support your message,” he said. “I wear a mask because I have personal reasons – health reasons that cause me to try and be careful.”
Despite his best efforts – which included wearing a mask – to avoid getting COVID-19, Pulsipher said he contracted it earlier this year while also undergoing chemotherapy for an undisclosed condition.
“I made it through it, but I also feel it’s my personal responsibility,” he said.
Undersheriff James Stanley spoke to the commission next and stated he believed the residents of the county deserve the right to choose for themselves versus being compelled through by any sort of government mandate. He also spelled out the Sheriff’s Office’s view of enforcing such mandates.
“From a law enforcement standpoint, I want to make sure everyone is aware that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has no interest in supporting a mandatory mask mandate in this county,” he said. “Personal choice is much better than forced compliance.”
Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke, who wrote the resolution for the commission, said the county fully supports personal liberty and freedom of choice. He also said it was interesting to see how some people in positions of authority are tempted to abuse their power and start telling others what is best for them during times of crisis and uncertainty.
However, the public can trust the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, Clarke said, and encouraged people to visit the health department’s website in order to learn more about COVID-19 if they had not already done so.
“This is not a change in our policy or our philosophy,” Iverson, who has been opposed to anything short of mandates since the beginning of the pandemic, told St. George News following the commission meeting.
“We’ve always trusted the public and encouraged them to get the facts,” he said.
St. George News reporter Chris Reed contributed to this story.
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