Not much York County Commissioners can do about mask compliance issues, Wheeler says

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

York County's president commissioner said Wednesday there's little the county board can do to enforce mask mandates in departments run by elected row officers.

The statements followed weeks of reports about lax enforcement of local and state mask mandates at the York County Judicial Center. 

"At the end of the day, they get to do what they want in their departments," said York County Commissioner Julie Wheeler.

Julie Wheeler, a businesswoman and Republican committeewoman from Windsor Township, is running for the York County Board of Commissioners.

Wheeler said most of the county's row officers have been great collaborators with the county in its efforts to comply with health and safety orders, including District Attorney Dave Sunday and Treasurer Barb Bair, as well as President Common Pleas Judge Joseph C. Adams in the courts.

Adams has ordered that all people wear masks when they're in public areas of the court house.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler listens as John Porter, executive vice president and COO of WellSpan Health, speaks during a press conference at the commissioner's chambers Monday, March 16, 2020. Wheeler declared a state of emergency in the county due to the Coronavirus. Bill Kalina photo

Adams shared a copy of the order with The York Dispatch, which also stated that "elected officials may establish their own protocols regarding the wearing of masks by employees within areas of their respective departments not directly accessible to members of the public."

Sheriff Rich Keuerleber told The York Dispatch in July that he's ordered his deputies to wear masks in public areas and that people should obey the mask order, but he also said it's up to individual department heads in the judicial center to set their own protocols.

On Wednesday, Wheeler urged the public to contact the commissioners' office when they see county employees not abiding by the mask mandate.

"The more I know and hear about it, the better I can address it," she said.

As for notifying the public when a county employee tests positive for COVID-19, Wheeler said the county has to protect the privacy of the individual employee, and that in some very small departments, such as the mosquito control department, it would be easy to figure out who tested positive.

But the county does have a protocol in place for what to do when a positive case is reported, Wheeler said.

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Most county employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus had already been at home for several days by the time their test results came back, Wheeler said, because the county's stated policy is that anyone with any symptoms of illness should stay home.

If an employee does test positive, Wheeler said, they're instructed to notify human resources, which will then work with the employee's supervisor to determine who else should be notified.

Wheeler said this would be considered contact tracing and that although the state Department of Health is handling contract tracing for areas that don't have their own health departments, there's sometimes a lag time between when the state is notified and when they send the contact tracers.

Commissioner Ron Smith said it's important for the county to be transparent about the virus but that the county must protect the privacy of the individuals involved in any positive case.

Wheeler and Commissioner Doug Hoke also both mentioned the importance of complying with Americans with Disabilities Act protections in the process of responding to an employee who tests positive. Asked what section of the ADA they were referring to, Wheeler cited section 12112, which addresses discrimination, specifically subsections that deal with medical examinations.

COVID-19 safety reminders are posted around Mount Wolf Community Park Thursday, August, 13, 2020. Mount Wolf Borough is requiring that all groups that reserve the pavilion or other area at the park sign an indemnification waiver in the event anyone contracts COVID-19 while attending. Bill Kalina photo

The county uses the following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its notification process, Wheeler said: If the sick employee was fewer than 6 feet away from another person for more than 15 minutes without wearing a mask, that other person will be notified that they might have been exposed.

But the CDC notes in its guidelines that it only considers N-95 respirators masks to be sufficient to block transmission of the virus, stating, "At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended."

Cloth face coverings have been required in all public spaces, statewide, since July 1, when Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine issued an updated universal mask-wearing order.

As of Thursday, there had been 111 virus-related deaths in York County, according to the state Department of Health, and a total of 3,011 positive cases since the outbreak began.

More:York County has 2 new deaths linked to COVID-19, 37 new cases

More:York County district court closed after employee tests positive for COVID-19