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Preston judge asks county officials to enforce mask wearing among employees

KINGWOOD — Preston Circuit Judge Steve Shaffer asked the Preston County Commission to enforce mask wearing by all county employees.

He cited the governor’s executive order on masks.

“What I’m asking is for the county to enforce their policy in county buildings and make people wear these masks,” Shaffer told Commissioners Dave Price, Don Smith and Samantha Stone Tuesday.

“I would ask that every elected officer stand up and put the big boy pants on and tell their employees they have to wear masks,” the judge said.

Smith said anyone elected to an office should “adhere to the proper policy and set the example.” It’s a simple order, Price said.

“We take an oath, and we hold our hands up and say that we’re going to obey the laws of West Virginia and the constitution of West Virginia and the Constitution of the United States. And basically the governor of our state has issued an executive order that everybody should abide by,” Shaffer said.

Since March he’s had to make a lot of decisions at the courthouse that “had a lot of people pretty upset,” Shaffer said. “But we took a proactive stance over there,” and the court has not had to close during COVID-19 as many courts have around the state.

“I know that you guys have also taken a proactive stand.” However, last week an employee in the Preston County prosecuting attorney’s office tested positive for the virus.

“I immediately inquired about being around people without masks and I was informed that they all sit around the table without their masks on,” Judge Shaffer said.

“It’s my understanding that all people in this building are not wearing their masks all the time,” Shaffer said.

The prosecutor’s offices are in the courthouse annex, which also houses the county health department, county commission, county clerk, assessor and sheriff’s tax office.

Courtrooms, the judge’s chambers, magistrate court and probation are housed in the courthouse. The courthouse falls under the judge’s jurisdiction, and Shaffer said he enforces mask wearing and social distancing.

“This is serious. I think we all know people who have died of this. We all have loved ones that are sick that are not strong enough to combat this,” Shaffer said.

Stone thanked the judge for coming in and said, “we have tried to our best to get our employees to adhere,” to policy.

“I appreciate you coming before [us] so maybe other people can see another elected official that is as concerned as the commission has been and other elected officials have been, maybe we can get everybody to start going in that direction,” Stone said.

He has warned people not wearing a mask in the courthouse that they will be removed, the judge said. He has also stopped hearings and sent out the bailiff to notify them if he observes on monitors that people in hallways outside the courtroom are not social distancing and masked.

He drew the anger of magistrate court assistants, who all three work in the same room, because he requires them to wear masks and to eat apart, Shaffer said.

If employees refuse to wear a mask, the judge believes they should work from home or not work.

County Administrator Kathy Mace said most employees do wear masks and care about their fellow employees.

Shaffer thanked Mace and Health Department Administrator V.J. Davis for their work on the COVID-19 response.

“Not a lot is changing right now. We’re seeing a huge increase in cases. Right now we’re averaging about 30 new cases a day. Over the course of the last seven days we’ve had 187 new cases,” Davis said.

There have been four deaths in the last seven days, bringing the total of COVID victims to 15. As of Tuesday morning, the county had 288 active cases and 875 total cases, Davis said.