Is there a conspiracy of silence in Austin County?
I’m not normally one given to believing in conspiracy theories, but I’m beginning to think there is a sinister one afoot locally. I say sinister, not that it is an evil plot, but rather one that can affect the health and lives of many residents of Austin County.
A couple times in the past few weeks I have called out County Judge Tim Lapham for his failure to not only wear a mask in public, but to say anything about them, including enforcement of Gov. Greg Abbott’s order mandating them in public places due to the coronavirus pandemic. I recently made the issue a front page story and included other high-profile county officials who have defied the state order and have not been wearing masks in public meetings.
Among the others are Sheriff Jack Brandes, Emergency Services Director Ray Chislett, and, most disturbingly, Emergency Medical Services Director Walter Morrow. All of these people have a sworn commitment to protecting and saving lives, yet they are ignoring the simplest and most basic of recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, state and national health agencies, and our own governor’s order to wear masks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Each of them is in danger of getting the virus and worse, are endangering each person they come in contact with.
Is it personal preference or county or department policy? Is it a political statement? I hope it isn’t willful ignorance. The thing is, no one at the county level is saying anything about the use of face coverings. I’ve called and emailed these county leaders several times with no response except for a “no comment” from Brandes.
On Monday I spoke with Lapham and Morrow in person before commissioners court. Morrow told me that masks can work some of the time and are not necessary all of the time. He said he has worked closely with his fellow county officials before and during the pandemic and feels safe unmasked. Afterward, he put on a mask for the meeting.
Lapham slipped me a copy of the governor’s executive order with a line highlighted that said masks are not required when “giving a speech or broadcast to an audience.” Yet he sits at a table unmasked with the four masked commissioners and his counterparts in nearby counties are masked during meetings.
If actions speak louder than words, then our officials are shouting the wrong message to the good people of Austin County. In their silence and by their actions (lack of face coverings), they are implying that they do not believe the top health officials and experts in the state and country. They are indicating that it is OK for local folks to not wear masks and risk both infection and further spread of the disease. This is despite the fact that Austin County continues to have growth in the number of COVID-19 cases and is now up to nine deaths.
Ironically, I don’t know how many times in the past I have spoken with Sheriff Brandes about law enforcement and he has told me many times that his office enforces all state laws. Granted this is an order and not a law, but failure to enforce it is inconsistent with his stated policies and practices.
As for our EMS director, I found it especially appalling that he has not been masked up in public meetings until confronted about it. Walter Morrow is a nice guy and is exceptionally qualified for his position. Yet health and safety are at the core of what he does. How can he in good conscience not be wearing face coverings in public? I just don’t get it.
Nobody likes having to wear the masks. They are, by far, the most controversial part of our pandemic response. But they do work and they are necessary. No, they do not stop the spread of the virus, but they do significantly reduce the spread. That’s why they are recommended in conjunction with social distancing.
We all bear the responsibility of slowing down and eventually stopping this pandemic. That means consistently doing our part by wearing face coverings, social distancing, and practicing good hygiene such as frequent hand washing and using hand sanitizer.
I know there are people out there who will blow me off as some left-wing media nut under government mind control. (Seriously, if that were the case, would I be calling out government officials?) The truth is, I’m about as conservative as they come. I just happen to be married to a woman in the medical field and am in regular contact with medical professionals. I will believe them over anti-maskers every time.
We all need to do our part. That includes our top county officials. Their inaction and silence are potentially deadly and need to change.