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COVID requirements in Preston County cause tension for residents and businesses


Not everyone in Preston County is onboard with COVID-19 restrictions, saying being required to follow them violates their rights.

But, said a West Virginia University law professor, there are limitations to our rights, and those of the whole community as well as the individual have to be considered

Preston County government offices are picking up their mail at the post office because the Postal Service says its workers will not follow the county’s requirements that visitors have their temperature taken and answer a few health questions before entering the buildings. All visitors must wear face coverings.

Asked about the refusal, Jill Walters, strategic communications specialist for the U.S. Postal Service, said, “The safety and well-being of both our employees and customers are our highest priority. We cannot direct a carrier to submit to precautionary screenings, and so the Postal Service has several alternatives for business customers to accommodate how they can receive their mail….”

The notice the county received from the Kingwood postmaster says, “While we understand your concerns, we cannot permit our letter carriers to comply with any request to submit to screenings, including medical questionnaires or temperature checks prior to delivering mail to your facility.”

Anyone entering a county building is asked if they have experienced symptoms of COVID-19 or been exposed to it. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or higher is denied entrance. Temperatures are taken with a thermometer that does not touch the skin.

The county could also have opted to have a temporary mail receptacle someplace near the building where screening would not be necessary.

County Administrator Kathy Mace said picking up the mail at the post office has actually resulted in receiving it earlier and more accurate sorting of mail for delivery to the different county offices.

We all have rights

A private business owner can require customers to follow guidelines, as long as those aren’t based on race, gender or similar things, said WVU Arthur P. Hodges Professor of Law Anne Marie Lofaso. So a private store owner could require all customers to wear face coverings.

Government can also restrict access “if it’s a public safety issue,” Lofaso said. “And they only have to have a rational reason for doing that. We’re in the middle of a public health crisis. And therefore a government only has to be reasonable in what it’s doing.”

There are fundamental rights — to breath, to travel, for example — “But you don’t have a fundamental right to say ‘I’m not going to wear a mask,’” inside a public building, the professor said. Requirements like Preston County’s “would be arbitrary if it were not in the middle of a public health crisis,” Lofaso said.

“There are a lot of people right now who feel that they have the right to do whatever they want and that’s just not how our rights work. All rights have limitations. The way I think of it is your right to extend your arm ends where my nose begins.”

And with a virus spread by air droplets “and we’re still in the first wave and this is a public health crisis. So your freedom to walk around without a mask ends where my health begins is another way of thinking about it,” Lofaso said.

The workers in a building, “have a right to be free of your germs,” she said. “People sometimes only think about their own rights and not think about the community, where everyone has rights.”

Face coverings protect others more than the wearer, according to health officials.

Taunts and refusals

The push back against COVID-19 restrictions doesn’t stop at the county level.

Darlene Bolyard, director of Arthurdale Heritage, said its facility may not participate in the 2020 Preston County Farm Crawl because of a conflict over requiring face coverings.

Bolyard said she was told by organizers for the event that visitors would not have to wear masks while touring the facility.

“I have seniors who volunteer,” she said. “Since my people are high risk, we require masks.”

Bolyard said masks are on hand at AHI if someone wanting a tour doesn’t have one. She recently turned away a couple who wanted to tour the buildings but refused to wear masks. Self-driving community tours are an option for those who refuse to wear masks.

Bolyard has also experienced negative comments personally while wearing a mask in public.

“I was filling my car up with gas and a man who was at the other pump looked at me and said ‘You’re one of those libtards that wear a mask.’ I’ve been called that twice now.”

According to Wiktionary, libtard is slang for “A stupid liberal or progressive; a person who presents or advocates liberal views in a stupid and/or illogical manner.”

“I think that probably the people who are most upset don’t really think we have a public health crisis, would be my guess,” Lafaso said. “To them it must seem really arbitrary because they really don’t believe. Because it hasn’t really hit West Virginia yet.”

By Jeniffer Graham
and Kathy Plum

TWEET @DominionPostWV