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Our leaders should set mask-wearing example

The issue over abiding by the advice of health professionals to wear masks in public or ignoring these directives because they are viewed by some as an infringement on their personal liberties continues to play out in some of our communities.

Earlier this month, the question of mask-wearing came up at a Bowmanstown Borough Council meeting in which some members of council declined the request of a colleague to put on their masks.

According to reports from the meeting, following a period of awkward silence, several council members - reportedly in a joking manner - noted that they had been excused from mask-wearing by the same doctor.

Many government organizations in the five-county Times News region have been holding virtual meetings on Zoom or similar online platforms in an effort to reduce the incidence of spreading COVID-19, but some smaller communities, such as Bowmanstown (estimated 2018 population of 886), have decided to have in-person meetings because of the likelihood of smaller numbers of attendees.

What is not predictable, however, is how many residents will show up if there is a controversial issue on the agenda.

If municipal leaders insist on holding in-person meetings, it would seem not only prudent but advisable from a health and welfare and leadership standpoint for them to wear masks themselves and to arrange for social distancing not only among themselves but for attendees in the meeting rooms.

I spoke to Mayor Zachary Snyder, who said he and council had decided not to answer questions from members of the news media unless they were in writing. He did say that he does not wear a face covering at council meetings. When I asked him why, he cited the exemption clause in the state Health Department’s order requiring universal face coverings.

I asked whether he had a medical condition that qualified him for the exemption. He declined to answer this question directly, again citing the exemption clause.

I requested a call from council President William Ravert through the borough office which never came. I sent several written questions to him and the mayor via Snyder, inviting Ravert to characterize the accuracy of the reports I had gotten as to what went on at the council meeting, but Ravert never responded.

Among the several questions I asked was one about whether he felt a responsibility to lead by example when it comes to mask-wearing.

I also called council’s legal counsel James F. Preston of the law firm of Broughal and DeVito in Bethlehem, but he did not return my call either.

In fact, just before connecting me to his voicemail, Preston’s secretary said that he does not talk to media representatives. In my voice message requesting a callback, I made reference to the secretary’s comment and asked that if this is the case to at least extend me the courtesy of letting me know that he will not talk to me.


In 60 years of newsgathering in Pennsylvania and New York, this is the first solicitor to a municipal government I have ever encountered who refuses to speak to members of the news media. I find this arrogant and a disservice to the municipality he serves.

The mask-wearing issue has been politicized almost from the start, especially since we received conflicting information back in February when we were told that donning masks was not necessary or important. A short time later, however, health professionals gained new insights into the characteristics of how the novel coronavirus spreads and changed their views about face masks.

Critics of President Donald Trump contend that his penchant for declining to wear face coverings most of the time has sent the wrong message to the public about the urgency of this important health measure, and many of his supporters, including municipal and state officials, are following his lead.

In Nevada where public gatherings are limited to 50 people, Trump recently insisted that the hundreds who turned out represented a “peaceful protest” rally that was protected under the First Amendment. He and his supporters also assail the news media for making a “big deal” out of non-mask-wearing at his rallies while saying relatively little about those without masks at Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

Just last week, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “The best defense we currently have against this virus is the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds.”

In a nutshell, we are left to make sense out of all of these mixed messages from our leaders, from health professionals and epidemiologists to all sorts of other mainstream, obscure and conspiratorial sources.

It’s all so confusing. As a result, you have everything ranging from those who adhere strictly to these directives to others who simply ignore, flout or fight over them, claiming the pandemic, which has infected more than 151,000 and killed more than 8,000 in Pennsylvania, infected 7 million and killed 200,000 nationwide; and infected 31.5 million and killed 975,000 worldwide, as a “hoax” or “overblown.”

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com