Custer County community divided over mask mandates

Custer County, population roughly 5,000, voted republican in the 2020 election.
Posted at 7:59 PM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 08:39:28-05

CUSTER COUNTY — Residents in Custer County are divided over whether or not masks should be "mandated" or "recommended."

"It's supposed to be a free country here. Let people make their own decisions. Let us be adults, let us handle business how we want. And if one business wants to do it one way, excellent and if you don't want to follow their rules, don't be their patron," said one resident.

Meanwhile, other residents who contacted News 5 say they are very concerned about the lack of mask enforcement around the county.

The controversy was catalyzed after Custer's Public Health Agency announced they would be no longer be "requiring" masks in the courthouse, only "highly recommending."

"Our attorney looked at things in the executive orders. There are places that say 'required' and there are places that say 'recommended,' and we can't actually defend this in a court of law effectively," said Director of Public Health Doctor Clifford Brown.

Citizens claim this press release was taken down after being corrected to specify its intentions for the courthouse only.
The original press release in Custer County rescinding mask mandates.

After the posts, Facebook comments took off with mixed opinions, including claims that Brown entered local stores when the county was in Level Yellow on the COVID-19 dial and told people that masks were not required, just "recommended". Other posts included, "The Gov just renewed his mask mandate. Why is this even an issue?"

Brown says there are very few ways for the county to actually enforce any sort of mask violations.

"Highly recommended, want you to do it, but if you don't, nobody's going to try to haul you off to court or fine you a thousand dollars, or anything like this. So that's kind of the reality."

Although signs outside of businesses still read "Masks Required", residents downtown can be seen going in and out of stores mask-free. On three separate occasions, business owners refused to speak about the matter, in fear that their support for masks would steer customers away.