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Face mask requirement divides Buncombe commissioners

Face mask requirement divides Buncombe commissioners
The decision to require face coverings in all public commercial buildings by Buncombe County leaders was not a unanimous one. The vote from county commissioners was 4-3. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

The decision to require face coverings in all public commercial buildings by Buncombe County leaders was not a unanimous one. The vote from county commissioners was 4-3.

Robert Pressley was one of the commissioners in the minority.

“We are not going to enforce it, so why are we making it mandatory?” Pressley said. “Everyone should adapt to it where they feel safe and not a commission or chairman and three dictating that we have to do this. Let’s let the public decide.”

He said he strongly recommends wearing face coverings, but doesn’t believe government officials should be the ones mandating their use.

Pressley said it’s really the same idea as a business implementing a no shirt, no shoes, no service policy.

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Not everyone agrees.

“This is not an easy decision. I value personal liberty. In normal times, a policy like this would not be up for consideration. For these reasons, I support his as a temporary policy to help provide an additional layer of protection as North Carolina enters Phase 2 of reopening,” Buncombe County Commission Chairman Brownie Newman said.

The new unenforced face mask ruling, which goes into effect Tuesday, is in stark contrast to what’s happening with the Gov. Roy Cooper's Phase 2 order, which the county, through local police officers in some municipalities, is enforcing.

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Asheville has seen it with Rise ‘n Shine Café getting cited for opening to dine-in customers before it was allowed.

Political scientist Chris Cooper said all of the policies will have a major impact when voters head to the polls.

“This does reinforce pretty clearly why voting matters, right? Why government is so important in the first place. These basic questions about regulation, what you should be allowed to do, public health. I think they’re all drawn into sharp belief with COVID-19,” Cooper said.

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He said what is playing out largely follows along party lines.

“In general, Democrats want more government regulation than Republicans do, certainly. Republicans want more laissez-faire government. They want government that does less. So, in a lot of ways, I think this actually aligns with traditional political cleavages in America, which is one reason it’s become a deep issue so quickly,” Cooper said.

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