Guilford County runs into problems with enforcing countywide mask mandate

Piedmont Triad News

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — It’s been 40 days since the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, acting as the Guilford County Board of Health, mandated masks in the county.

Dr. Iulia Vann, Guilford County’s health department director, tells FOX8 her office has received about 300 complaints. About 170 of them turned out to be legitimate.

Most of the complaints are big box stores, home improvement stores and large grocery stores.

“We’re expecting for those cases to start going down soon, hopefully that’s the case but at least we saw a direct correlation between when the mask mandate was put in place,” says Dr. Iulia Vann, Guilford County Health Department Director.

Despite the complaints, Vann believes the mask mandate and education is moving in the right direction.

“We have really been able to ramp up the boots-on-the-ground type of work since we added additional team members to this type of work. We now have six enforcement officers who are going on responding to complaints, doing visits or education site visits to different entities,” Vann said.

The health department enforcement team has done more than 100 visits since last week, has given at least four warning notices to businesses and is currently working on issuing a few fines which start at $300 for a first violation.

Vann says they are getting the job done, but they can’t do it alone.

“We have at least 7,000 establishments that we are inspecting through our environmental health department,” Vann said. “That would be restaurants, things like that. Add the tens of thousands of other businesses that we have in Guilford County, you get to a number where it’s very difficult to be at all times with the resources that we have.”

City Council Member Tammi Thurm raises a concern about event venues at Monday’s city council meeting,

“I saw pictures from the concert Saturday night, and I don’t know how many thousands of kids were there all close together with no masks on,” Thurm said. “They all had masks going in. It’s very hard to enforce. I’m not sure what the right answer is.”

Vann explained the enforcement challenges in those places.

“It’s really a safety issue when it’s dark, and people are walking around trying to figure out what’s going on,” she said.

Thurm reminded us of the exception to the rule.

“If somebody has a beer or a soda or a thing of popcorn, and they’re eating. It’s very hard to have enough staff to say you’re in-between sips, you need to put your mask back on, that kind of thing. It’s just not realistic,” she said.

She says she believes something else needs to be done.

“It would be helpful if we had a stronger message whether it be federal, state, county, etc. I also would like to see what our county health department, what are their recommendations on how we move forward with these kinds of settings,” she said.

Businesses that do not comply with the mask mandate will be issued a warning. After that, the fines start and range from $300 to $1,500.

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