On March 9, the Powell Tribune reported that Gov. Mark Gordon rescinded the statewide face mask mandate and allowed most businesses to resume normal operations March 16. This decision …
On March 9, the Powell Tribune reported that Gov. Mark Gordon rescinded the statewide face mask mandate and allowed most businesses to resume normal operations March 16. This decision was based on favorable data indicating declining numbers of new COVID-19 cases. Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin agreed with the governor.
Previously, the Tribune reported (Nov. 18) that Dr. Billin informed the county commissioners of the “dire” COVID-19 situation due to the number of cases and associated strain on the healthcare system. His Public Health Order 2020-002, issued under the direction and supervision of State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, clearly stated the reasons for requiring the use of face masks to control the spread of the virus, all based on CDC guidelines. Shortly after this, the Park County Republican caucus passed a resolution condemning the mandate. They informed Dr. Billin but did not invite him to speak to them.
On March 4, the Park County Republican Central Committee met again to discuss the mask mandate.
As reported by the Tribune, Committeeman Tim Lasseter argued that the current numbers of COVID-19 cases did not support the restrictions. He then asked county commissioners Lloyd Thiel and Dossie Overfield why they “let an unelected bureaucrat [Dr. Billin] have that much power in the county and basically endorsed [the mandate by] supporting him?” Troy Bray of Powell then said, “There are power-hungry dictators with an M.D. behind their name that need to be fired or executed” and that he was “good with either one.”
Mr. Bray, have you been to medical school? Those remarks constitute a death threat and could be construed as harassment. Dr. Billin was legally appointed as county health officer by the Park County commissioners. Who are you to accuse him of dictatorship for doing his job?
Wyoming Statute 6-2-506 states that harassment means to threaten another person using verbal, written and other methods of communicating that would be expected to cause substantial emotional distress, fear for personal safety or fear of destruction of personal property. Whether those remarks rise to the level of a crime is for the district attorney to determine. Nevertheless, they are extremely offensive and highly inappropriate. The First Amendment is not absolute. Harassment is not protected speech.
If Dr. Billin is removed, the Park County commissioners must appoint another physician as health officer. What would they want the new doctor to do differently? Physicians are legally required to practice medicine according to the standard of care. The use of masks has been proven to slow the spread of the virus. If the new health officer did what you wanted, rescinded the mask mandate prematurely, and people got sick or died, they could be sued for malpractice. Would any of you wanting to act as health officer be willing to take that risk and accept the liability for any medical error and resulting litigation? Let’s have a show of hands.
As health officer, Dr. Billin has the authority to issue orders for the public health based upon established guidelines. His primary concern is preventing the spread of the coronavirus to minimize the number of new infections. “Social and mental concerns” as noted by Thiel are important, but as a physician, the health officer’s first duty is to keep people healthy, that is, keep them from getting infected.
Precinct Committeeman Bob Berry stated “We do not live in a democracy. We live in a country of laws ...” He opined that the mask mandate is being placed above the state constitution and that “it seems to me that we should let the Constitution trump the statute.”
Wyoming Statute 35-1-227 states that county health officers shall be under the direction and supervision of the state department of health and shall have authority to make such rules and regulations for the government and direction of county health officers as may be best suited to maintain the public health. Therefore, Dr. Billin’s order is legal by state law and is indeed constitutional. The “we do not live in a democracy” comment is nonsense.
Note is made that after the inflammatory remarks, Park County Republican Party Chairman Martin Kimmet indicated that they should “tone it down” after someone raised a concern about their propriety. That is not remotely adequate. Many of us in the community are outraged at the violent ideology that was expressed. The recent very eloquent letter by Cyndi Barski is an example.
Mr. Kimmet, why didn’t you immediately censure or expel the people involved? Why didn’t you immediately make a statement on record that you and the caucus do not condone violence, threats, intimidation or other illegal activities? The mask mandate has now been lifted but that does not excuse your actions. The vast majority of us in this community do not want to hurt or threaten anyone. You owe us an explanation and an apology, especially to Dr. Billin. Your group does not represent the people of Park County.