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Seifert drops grading system proposal

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | January 26, 2021 7:00 AM

After sparking public outcry, health board member Jim Seifert said he has abandoned an idea to grade area businesses based on their adherence to pandemic restrictions.

Seifert, who serves as Troy’s representative to the board, said during a Jan. 15 interview that he promoted the measure as a way to keep patrons informed.

“People should have the freedom to frequent public spaces without being exposed to a virus that another person is carrying,” he said.

Seifert speculated that the ranking system would have created an incentive for businesses to follow public health guidelines. He cited a study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah that showed that mask mandates boosted consumer confidence and led to an increase in spending. By reassuring residents that the businesses they frequented were practicing safety measures, the ranking system could aid local merchants’ bottom line.

Under Seifert’s plan, which he pitched at a December board meeting, health department officials would assign a letter grade to each area business after conducting inspections. The businesses would have to post their rank on their entrance.

Health officials would award an A grade to shops that strictly enforce mask and social distancing mandates. Those that flouted pandemic regulations could receive a failing grade.

When Seifert suggested the ranking system in December, both local and statewide health orders mandated that masks be worn in indoor public spaces and businesses limit capacity.

In response to his proposal, a few residents reacted bitterly, decrying Seifert as a Nazi on social media.

Local officials, including County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) came to Seifert’s defense. While he did not agree with the ranking system, Peck backed Seifert’s right to speak his mind.

“I’ve known Jim Seifert my whole life and Jim Seifert is a good man,” Peck said earlier this month. “He’s a Vietnam vet, he owns a business in Troy and has been a good citizen, but in my opinion he’s wrong here. But that doesn’t make him a Nazi. That makes him wrong in Mark Peck’s opinion.”

Seifert said the derogatory social media comments didn’t bother him. During a Jan. 13 health board meeting, Seifert said he felt that, as a citizen of a democracy, he should be able to voice ideas without being slammed and clobbered. He estimated that around 90 percent of the heckling came from around 10 percent of the county’s population.

But having seen the reactions, he decided it best not to pursue it.

“It would not be that hard to implement,” he said during the Jan. 15 interview. “But you’d have people burning down the courthouse.”

With the state moving ahead with its vaccination plan, Seifert also questioned whether the ranking system would even get off the ground in time to have an impact. Due to the public opposition, Seifert said he thought it would take four to five months for the measure to make it through the health board, if at all. By that time, he said enough people might be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

Ultimately, Seifert decided the results of the grading measure would not be worth the discord it sowed. During the Jan. 13 meeting, Seifert reiterated that the grading system was solely his idea. He also worried about the strain it would put on local health officials, who already are tasked with outreach, contact tracing, vaccination efforts and keeping up on their regular duties.

Moving forward, Siefert said he would continue to use science to inform his decisions.

“Science has no friends,” he said.