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Coronavirus in Schuylkill County

Mask Mandate Continues at Schuylkill Courthouse Because CDC Says So

At some point (like, in 2020), local governments need to take their own approach to COVID. We’re not there in Schuylkill County, apparently.

courthouse mask mandate continues

A mask mandate is still in place at Schuylkill County Courthouse.

This is by order of the Commissioners, despite the judicial emergency on Schuylkill County courts being vacated by new President Judge Jacqueline Russell earlier this month.

The Commissioners, through Administrator Gary Bender, say they’ll continue to follow the CDC recommendations on indoor masking as a prevention measure against COVID infection. That means we’re only just another local government that chooses to take recommendations as rules.

Schuylkill Commissioners Will Continue to Follow CDC Recommendations for Indoor Mask Rules

By Friday, the CDC is expected to update its indoor mask guidance. And that update is likely to include messaging that would remove mask rules from places where they’re still in place.

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In most places in Schuylkill County, face masks are no longer required. All but a few schools still have mandates in place.

Schuylkill County Courthouse and other County-owned buildings are other places where the mandates still exist.

That could have changed, however, on Feb. 9 when Russell issued an order vacating the judicial emergency previously imposed by then-President Judge William Baldwin.

Per Russell’s Administrative Order:

“This court having previously declared a judicial emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, having thereafter entered administrative orders either extending or terminating the emergency declaration or issuing directives related to the pandemic with the last order having been issued on Aug. 16, 2021, directing, inter alia, the wearing of face masks by individuals in the Schuylkill County Courthouse, the Magisterial District Courts, and other County facilities, and after conferring with Schuylkill County Commissioners, it is ordered the order of Aug. 16, 2021, is vacated.”

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However, Russell also notes in the Order that it “shall not be interpreted to affect any authority the Schuylkill County Commissioners may possess with respect to County facilities and personnel.”

That opened the door to allow the Commissioners to lift the mask mandate on employees and the public visiting the Courthouse in Pottsville. But they chose the other door.

“wE fOlLoW tHe cDc!”

In a memo dated Feb. 10, the day after Russell’s order was handed down, Administrator Bender writes to employees:

“By now, you are probably aware that Judge Russell today vacated the previous Orders declaring a judicial emergency … However, the suspension of the Administrative Order today, in no way, removes the mask requirements currently in place by the Schuylkill County Board of Commissioners for employees and the public entering the Courthouse.”

Bender writes that the Commissioners will keep the mask mandate in place.

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“The policy of the Board of Commissioners has always been to be consistent with the CDC guidelines,” the memo reads.

If and when the CDC updates its recommendations – remember, not an order but just recommendations – Bender writes that HR Director Heidi Zula will note the changes and make recommendations to the Commissioners on the new guidance.

Again, one of the biggest flaws of local governments during the pandemic is their unwillingness, for whatever reason, to strike out on their own with regard to COVID-related regulations.

If you’ll recall, back in 2020, a group of business and medical experts consulted with these same Commissioners and recommended that we defy Governor Tom Wolf’s arbitrary and ultimately dangerous red-yellow-green reopening phases after the bald jerk in Harrisburg kept leaving Schuylkill County in the red zone, keeping many businesses closed and people out of work.

Well, for a few minutes, it appeared we were ready to break out from under Wolf’s thumb but under local public pressure and then a temper tantrum from Wolf where he essentially called us cowards, the Commissioners backed down from their defiant stance, instead choosing to keep businesses closed.

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So, it’s really no surprise to see the Commissioners defer to the CDC recommendations and treat them as if they were some kind of order. It’s par for the course for them, as they’re so often willing to hire outside help to make big decisions.


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