PRINCETON, W.Va. — Mercer County now has an indoor mask mandate for public buildings.
The Mercer County Board of Health approved the mandate at a Wednesday meeting. It takes effect immediately.
“We’ve already had 17 deaths in the first 21 days of September due to COVID,” Mercer County Health Department administrator Ron Topping told MetroNews. “We have almost 1,200 new cases of cases of COVID in the first 21 days of September.”
Topping noted the rise in coronavirus cases has placed additional stress on the county’s lone hospital, Princeton Community Hospital.
“They have been hammered,” he said. “I don’t even think they have a single bed available in the hospital.”
Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett said the board made the right move given the spread of the delta variant in Mercer County.
“It doesn’t become a rights issue when it’s impacting everybody else,” Puckett said following the board’s vote.
Puckett said the mandate will be in effect until at least Oct. 27. The board is also expected to have a public hearing at some point.
Gov. Jim Justice has said he opposes a statewide mask mandate, calling it a decision best left up to local governments.
Mercer County joins Greenbrier County as the only county health boards that have taken the step. Greenbrier County approved a mandate last Friday.
Puckett said he’s heard the arguments by those who have said mandates violate rights. He said that really doesn’t apply in this situation.
“This is a public health crisis and unfortunately one person’s rights stop when they infringe on others,” Puckett said. “If we can use a mask to slow that down and we get back to some semblance of normal then I think it was the right decision to make.”
Topping said he knows people do not like mask mandates, but it is important for everyone regardless of their vaccination status to do their part.
“I know for a fact that this is worse now than it was before,” he added.
A new state law gives county commissions veto power over health board decisions. Puckett predicted the Mercer County Commission would agree with the board of health’s vote.
Mercer County was red on Wednesday’s daily alert COVID-19 map. The county’s infection rate is at more than 116%.