Health departments brace for reports of mask non-compliance

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GREENUP, Ky. (KT) – Greenup County Health Department Director Chris Crum was getting used to the phone not ringing so much over the past two months since Kentucky began slowly reopening from the coronavirus epidemic.


Crum and the other 119 county health department directors may be hearing it a little more real soon. They will be one of the first layers of defense - aside from the businesses themselves - to Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order requiring Kentuckians to wear masks in public.


Retailers, grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses are supposed to not allow service to anyone who refuses to wear a mask per the executive order. Those who do could receive a visit from county health directors about compliance and risk losing licenses.


Crum said when the state began to reopen his office was besieged with calls and lots of questions about compliance. He expects some of the same with the mask order.


“Enough people are now in compliance that it will probably be less calls,” he said. “But it will definitely be a surge and more than the last couple of months.”


He said the first weeks of reopening after the shutdown was “crazy,” and they were on the line with a lawyer about twice a week, then once a week and it has now been moved to every other week.


“People come at it from so many different angles,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions on compliance. Start throwing in the Constitution and that’s past our paygrade. We have our local lawyer here, but we want what the state will back us on.”


County health department directors were on a conference call Friday, but it was mostly questions with no answers, Crum said. “We were scheduled for an hour meeting and it took about 20 minutes, just enough time for everybody to submit questions in writing. They said they’d get answers and get back to us.”


Crum said health departments will monitor reports that are called in and investigate, but they won’t be arresting anybody or hauling them off to jail. They won’t be dealing with individuals but retail businesses and food suppliers. Other businesses would be turned over to the Department of Labor.


If businesses are non-compliant, they could lose their license, he said. “We would set up a conference to discuss it before we’d shut anything down,” Crum said.


He said people can report a violation to the office, and they will take the appropriate steps. Crum said anyone who has photos or videos of an alleged incident makes the evidence even more compelling. There were also cases of businesses calling on each other when the state was first reopening.


“I didn’t know how many dog groomers there were (in Greenup County),” he said. “They’re the most competitive people I’ve ever seen in my life. I thought it was strange to have that many in Greenup County, but from talking to some of my director friends, they said it was the same for them.”


That same scenario could happen with masks, he said.


As for churches, Crum said they should have been wearing masks all along.


“The church is to help people. I can’t imagine a church not wanting to help its parishioners,” he said. “A church is not a permitted establishment. We’d report it and document it (if somebody called) but I’m not going to say we’d lock your doors. The health department is not going to shut down a church. Wear a mask to church or if you can attend a service at home virtually, do that.”


He said those coming to church should wear a mask at least until getting to their seats and then remove it only if they are able to social distance. Then they can put the mask on again when leaving.


Greenup County has only two investigators in the 20-member office, Crum said, so they are limited in numbers.


“It could make your head spin and I could talk myself in circles,” he said. “That’s part of it, seeing how each person looks at it. We’ve got to be able to see those viewpoints and work through it. You’ve got to be flexible.”


Crum said if the executive order goes through and people comply, the number of coronavirus cases should go down. “If the number of cases goes down, you lessen restrictions. That puts us at the time schools are getting ready to start. The children will all be wearing masks. It will make a difference.”


If law enforcement has to be called in to assist, which Crum said can happen, it would likely be the Kentucky State Police since local governments and cities would be exempted from having to enforce it.


Crum said it was important for people to call the office and not use 911 to report violations.

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