Re-Opening Lancaster County

A man wearing a mask walks down State Street in Ephrata Friday May 15, 2020.

Whether you need to wear a mask when visiting Lancaster County government buildings depends on which structure you enter.

At the Duke Street courthouse, masks are required.

At the 150 N. Queen Street county government building, they are “strongly encouraged, but not required” for staff and members of the public, according to the county’s chief clerk, Larry George.

At the Lancaster County Prison, Warden Cheryl Steberger said all staff have been wearing masks since April 6, and all inmates have been wearing them since April 15.

Even the county commissioners don’t agree.

“There is no legal basis in statute for requiring mask use and doing so would not be appropriate,” Commissioner Josh Parsons said in an email. “A private business may choose to do so as a requirement to access their property, but County government is not a private business and we have offices the public has a right to access.”

Parsons, a Republican, said that since the beginning of the pandemic county government has been following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which “recommends" wearing masks. He added that personal liberty is a factor the commissioners consider, and that the courts “operate under different laws and rules from the rest of County government and have to make their own decision.”

Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman disagrees with Parsons. Lehman said his understanding of the policy, which he said his colleagues agreed to, was that staff is required to wear masks when interacting with the public or when in public areas.

“I see nothing inappropriate about requiring County staff to wear a mask when interacting with the public and when in public spaces,” Lehman said in an email.

“Regarding the public entering the County Government Center, I favor the Court's approach of requiring the wearing of masks,” Lehman continued. “If someone came into the County Government Center without shoes or a shirt, they would likely be asked to leave and/or refused service.”

Lehman’s comment about the court approach referred to a May 27 order by Lancaster County President Judge David Ashworth that requires anyone entering the courthouse at 50 N. Duke St., or a magisterial district court building, to “(wear) protective face masks in common areas.”

Republican Commissioner Ray D'Agostino agreed with Parsons that county government cannot deny service to someone because they are not wearing a mask.

“No higher authority has mandated it, so I cannot see imposing a restriction on providing public service to someone in this situation," D'Agostino said in an email. ”

Maggi Mumma, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Health, said in an email that local governments are not required to follow the state’s building and business safety orders, but should implement the protocols as much as possible.

“Local political units should use best judgment in exercising their authorities and issuing implementation directives and guidance,” Mumma said. “All such decisions should appropriately balance public health and safety while ensuring the continued delivery of critical services and functions.

“Government employees and contractors should continue to operate under the direction of their supervisors.”