City, county gathers to discuss proposed masking mandate

City and county commissioners alongside Floyd County healthcare leaders gather at the Forum River Center on Wednesday to discuss the merits of making mask wearing mandatory.

In a joint Rome and Floyd County commission discussion on whether to propose mandating masks, one figure came up briefly.

The doubling rate.

That’s how many days it takes for the number of coronavirus cases to double. The lower the number, the faster the virus is spreading.

Georgia’s doubling rate has dropped by nearly 20 days within one week, Redmond Regional Medical Center’s CEO John Quinlivan told the joint meeting of city and county commissioners on Wednesday.

Last week, he said, the state’s doubling rate was 60 days. That means it took approximately two months for the number of COVID-19 infections to double.

This week it’s 41 days. If life holds true to the statistics and the rate of infection continues, that means Georgia’s number of coronavirus cases will double in just over a month and a week.

The difference in doubling times may sound like a few days, but what it comes down to in real life is the effect on how many patients are having to be treated in hospitals — and the potential of those hospitals becoming overwhelmed.

Both Redmond’s CEO and Floyd Medical Center President and CEO Kurt Stuenkel said they’re not at risk of being overwhelmed at this point.

A positive sign remains: the number of deaths in Floyd County hasn’t gone up either.

“If there’s good news from this, we’ve learned some things,” Stuenkel said. He said new treatments — like steroid treatments or the experimental drug remdesivir — have helped patients survive infection.

The rise of new cases is what spurred Rome’s Mayor Bill Collins to reach out to his counterpart on the county commission, Chair Scotty Hancock. Collins made no bones about stating he supports proposing a mask mandate for the city and expects to present a first reading of an ordinance at the city’s monthly meeting on Monday.

Mandating mask wearing would demonstrate leadership, Rome’s mayor said, giving a path for others to follow.

Hancock has said he personally doesn’t agree with a mandate and stated that he has reservations about the feasibility and enforceability of mandating face coverings in the county. Although, he has said he wears a mask in public and supports Gov. Brian Kemp’s recent initiative to encourage Georgians to wear masks.

Dr. Gary Voccio, the health director for Georgia’s Northwest Health District, alongside Stuenkel, Quinlivan and Harbin Clinic CEO Kenna Stock all said the benefit of wearing masks to the community is unquestioned.

“It’s really a simple thing,” Stock told the joint boards.

Both city and county leaders weighed in on the question of enforcement, if an ordinance were to be put in place. City Commissioner Craig McDaniel pointed out that Rome instituted a ban on smoking downtown, yet not a single citation has been written.

He and others in the same meeting favored a public relations campaign to encourage businesses and merchants to encourage staff and customers to wear masks. Really, he said, it would be in their best interest.

“If the numbers go back up and we have to close down, some of those businesses aren’t coming back,” McDaniel said.

At this point, Dr. Voccio said, Georgia as a whole has been declared a red zone by the Centers for Disease Control because of the increase in the spread of the coronavirus.

Much of that spread is in metro areas. But the state had on average 1,000 new cases a day six weeks ago. Now, the state is averaging 2,500 cases a day.

“It’s fortunate in one aspect that our death rate is not going up,” Voccio said, but he cautioned that fatalities may begin an upward trend as cases continue to rise.

Later in the meeting, City Commissioner Bonny Askew — who went on the record in support of a mask mandate — proposed a question.

“Do we wait until the death rate starts to go up before we do something?” he asked the commissioners.

Recommended for you