ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. —
After months of tug of war between the health department and anti-mask advocates, a final vote on mask fines was delayed again and Health Officer Robert Einterz was irate with the county council, calling them “deplorable and cowardly,” according to emails retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act.
Last October, the county council met and was expected to finally give the health department the ability to fine businesses that didn’t adhere to county’s mask rules. Einterz had first proposed the fine ordinance in July and had battled for months against the anti-mask contingent working hard to block him. The issue, however, was tabled at the October meeting pending the advisory opinion of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill about whether the ordinance was constitutional, among other reasons. Einterz was absolutely furious at the council for delaying his fines again and completely beside himself about all the maskless individuals who showed up to speak against his measure.
Einterz wrote the following email to local hospital officials, his Deputy Health Officer Mark Fox and Jeff Rea, president and CEO of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. Last night, the majority of the County Council effectively condoned the irresponsible behavior of a small number of citizens of St Joseph County. SJC has received more than 700 unsolicited comments from citizens of this county stating their support for the mask mandate; yet, the Council chose to heed the advice of 20 naysayers. The County Council had the opportunity to send a message to the people of St Joseph County emphasizing personal responsibility and wearing of masks. Instead, the county council abnegated their duty to protect the citizens of St Joseph County from the irresponsible behavior of a small group of individuals who deny the validity of science and voice extreme and patently false views regarding face coverings. With the welfare of our hospital workers in the balance, the council members chose to stand with the extremists in opposition to the leadership of every major hospital and health system serving the people of St. Joseph county. I am disappointed at the Council’s actions, ashamed of their unwillingness to support our health systems, and appalled at their decision not to protect the health of the people of our county. We deserve better.
Bob (October 14, 2020)
Fox responded: I would support Unified Command putting out a statement to this effect. Elkhart cancelled a Board of Health meeting when anti-maskers showed up, citing unsafe conditions.(Unified Command is a group of local officials guiding the coronavirus response, including Rea and the hospitals.)
Einterz answered: I welcome your suggestion, Mark. I suggest adding the signatures of the Board of Health, or at least the President and VP of the BoH. To clarify my feelings a bit more, I was disgusted with the vote, and I was particularly steamed that the chambers were packed with people not wearing masks, but the Council said nothing. (Even the attorney representing Mulligan’s who spoke in opposition whispered in my ear that he was not comfortable having to stand amongst the non mask wearers!)
(The attorney Einterz referred to is James A. Masters. Whispering in an ear, ironically, would have been in violation of the six-foot social distancing rule advocated by the county.)
Rea responded more even-handedly, questioning whether a public statement in regards to the council’s actions would be the best way to move forward, when the real enemy is the virus. He instead urged the group to continue to be strong leaders in the community with its coronavirus response.
Einterz answered one more time: The Council forfeited any semblance of leadership by not preventing 30 people from walking maskless immediately next to me. The Council’s inaction is deplorable and cowardly. I have been patient since May, and I have comprised over and again, only to be met by intransigence and ignorance by several members of the Council. The horse is out of the barn. They not only abnegated their duty, they gave fuel to the anti science extremists. We should ask ourselves, what has the Council done to mitigate this crisis? I would love to be dissuaded of my opinion, but my answer is “nothing.” All they had to do was uphold the face covering order in the chambers, and i would have eaten crow silently with the predetermined decision to table the order. Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the Council last night demeaned my entire staff and me and devalued healthcare workers throughout our county.
Mask fines passed the county council one month later in November, 8 to 1. County Councilman Mark Root was the only member to vote against the measure.