A candidate for Garfield County commissioner says the current commissioners are putting politics over public health by not requiring people to wear face coverings while in public.
Leslie Robinson of Rifle is running for the District 3 Board of County Commissioners seat as a Democrat in November against incumbent Republican Mike Samson.
She said during comments via video conference before the county commissioners on Monday that Garfield County should follow the lead of neighboring resort counties in requiring masks be worn in public places.
“Don’t let the politics of a few dictate COVID health and safety decisions that will protect the many,” Robinson said.
Garfield County should enact a temporary order requiring face coverings while in places of business and where social distancing is not possible, same as the municipalities of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, she said.
Face coverings should not be a political issue, Robinson said, adding “it’s time to believe in the medical science behind the use of masks to slow down contagion.”
Reached on Tuesday, Samson said the vast majority of constituents who have contacted him are opposed to a mask requirement, though people on the eastern end of the county are more supportive, he said.
“If you look at the stats, the majority of Covid cases appear to be in the eastern end of the county,” Samson said. That includes Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, which do require masks within their city limits, and New Castle, which does not. Combined, those communities account for 65% of the county’s cases since the outbreak began in early March.
Personally, Samson said he does wear a mask when entering businesses, especially busier ones such as City Market or Walmart.
“One of the major reasons why I do it is because a lot of people know who I am, and it’s good for me to set an example for others,” Samson said. “People need to use good judgment and common sense, and if you’re going to be in a situation where you’re close to other people, it’s a way to protect them and yourself.”
Robinson’s comments also elicited a response during the Monday meeting from District 1 Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who is not up for reelection this year.
He also said the constituent comments he’s heard, especially in the Rifle area, are “three-to-one against” requiring masks.
“Rifle, Parachute, Silt … none of those city councils have come to us asking for (a mask requirement), and any of them could have done it on their own,” Jankovsky said.
Jankovsky acknowledged public health suggestions that face masks could reduce the virus spread by 5% to 10%. But hospital capacity in the county and statewide is a better benchmark to make decisions, rather than the number of new cases, he said.
“Our hospitals are not at capacity,” he said, adding later in direct response to Robinson, “the individuals you’re trying to represent are opposed to face masks.”
Although county commissioners represent certain districts within the county, they are elected countywide by voters from Carbondale to Parachute.
Robinson also noted that a disproportionate number of those who have contracted COVID-19 in Garfield County, 60%, are Latino. That percentage has increased from 49% in early June.
“I wonder what more can the county be doing to reach out to that community to educate and stop this contagion among our most vulnerable populations,” she said.
Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long acknowledged in her regular report to the county commissioners Monday that the recent surge in cases among Latinos is a concern. That likely can be attributed to virus spread in workplaces, especially within the tourism and service industries, as well as construction job sites and even the practice of carpooling to work.
While carpooling is a good thing to do during normal times, Long said, “this is maybe not the time to do that.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original version with comments from Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson.