Patrick Taylor Highlands Mayor
Last week I contacted a governor’s representative before Governor Cooper’s afternoon press conference. I asked if the governor planned to increase mask requirements given that the COVID Delta variant is spreading across the country. It turns out the governor hasn’t increased mask requirements, but rather eased them for resumption of school.
The Delta variant’s potential impact on Highlands concerns me. Our community had a wonderful volunteer response in setting up vaccination clinics for everyone. Our residents have cooperated with town and state COVID emergency. I am grateful for all these efforts. The last thing I want to see is a regression to those dark days of lockdowns and quarantines.
The large number of our citizens who have not taken the vaccine truly concerns me. Sallie and I stepped forward, like so many of you, and took the vaccine. This spring we saw a loosening of restrictions at the state level. I was ecstatic by the prospect of Highlands returning to normal. I, along with the town board, had not relished the burdensome responsibility of issuing emergency measures. It hoped we had crossed the Rubicon, so to speak, in abating the spread of the virus. Over a period of months our policies merged and conformed with the governor’s state emergency orders, and we followed the state lead again in easing restrictions.
The governor had previously allowed businesses to reopen provided masks were worn. Also, in crowded areas, such as on business district sidewalks, Highlands required. Our police enforced the state orders which were supported by NC statute law. In late spring, the governor rescinded these emergency orders, so we adjusted our signs downtown to read, “masks suggested in crowded areas.”
I hope we do not go back to mandatory masking requirements, but if the state makes that decision, Highlands will comply. For the town to pass a local masking ordinance at this time would be premature and probably counter-productive. First, it could slow the resurgence in the local economy. Second, a local mask ordinance would be hard to enforce and problematic to defend in state court where judges are dealing with what they view as serious cases such as domestic violence and drug violations. Third, a local ordinance would be at this time based on conflicting scientific information, especially for those who have been vaccinated. Information might have changed by this publication date.
In summary, I will be following the emerging information from medical experts on whether to reinstate mask requirements, or not. If the state health director and the governor issue new orders concerning masking, the town will follow. If not, we will continue to urge everyone to get a vaccination. Medical experts stress that the vaccines offer good protection from severe COVID infections requiring hospitalization.
Everyone eligible needs to be vaccinated, if not for sake of love ones and the community, at least in respect to the medical heroes who treat those unvaccinated who become infected. For me, it is an issue of fairness, and a line between personal choice and what is good for the community.