Sep. 10—The Cobb County Board of Health found itself in the spotlight this week with its vote to call for universal masking and vaccinations in Cobb County schools.
Created by state law, the eight-member body is tasked with evaluating community health, ensuring local compliance with and enforcement of health-related laws, and directing the local health "department, programs, activities, and facilities." Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, local health boards were tasked with tackling issues including opioid addiction and sewage management.
The board's makeup is dictated by Georgia code. Lisa Cupid, chair of the Cobb Board of Commissioners; Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin, Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, and Marietta Schools Superintendent Grant Rivera serve on the board by virtue of their respective positions.
One of the board's four other posts, currently held by former First National Bank of Cobb County President W. Wyman Pilcher III, is appointed by the city of Marietta.
The three other posts are appointed by the Cobb Board of Commissioners, and are to include a currently practicing medical doctor, a member to represent the county's "needy, underprivileged or elderly community," and a member to represent an advocacy group or the county's healthcare consumers. Those three positions are respectively held by Dr. Paula Greaves, a Wellstar Health System doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Carol Holtz (who serves as chair of the board), a nursing professor at Kennesaw State University, and Pete Quinones, CEO of Metro Atlanta Ambulance.
Each appointed member serves for a six-year term and is paid not more than $10 per day for attendance at health board meetings.
Eight powers are designated to the Board of Health, including the ability to adopt bylaws for its own governance, establish contracts and fees for health services, and administer funding for some health-related programs.
The board is also given broader powers to prevent and suppress disease, including the ability to "adopt and enforce rules and regulations," and "exercise responsibility and authority in all matters within the county pertaining to health."
Those provisions, however, come with a caveat — the board's authority is limited. It extends only so far as it does not conflict with either the Georgia Department of Public Health or the enforcement powers of another agency.
All local health departments are currently guided by an administrative order from the state Department of Public Health which grants each school system the authority to set its own COVID-19 protocols, said Cobb-Douglas Public Health spokesperson Valerie Crow. Thus Tuesday's "position statement" calling for universal masking and vaccinations in Cobb schools could only be framed as a call to action, not a binding set of rules.
A Cobb School District spokeswoman said the Board of Health's vote was not binding and would not change the district's mask-optional policy.
With the exception of Ragsdale, who abstained from the vote, and Rivera, who was not present for the meeting, each board member voted in favor of the statement. Explaining his abstention, Ragsdale said he was not comfortable supporting a statement he had not had an opportunity to review.
Ragsdale has repeatedly maintained that requiring masks, especially among elementary-age students, can negatively impact students. He has also said school districts with mask mandates have not done a better job of limiting in-school spread of the coronavirus than schools without.