EAGLEVILLE — Montgomery County commissioners clashed during a news briefing when the Republican board member accused the Democratic chairwoman of taking a “cheap shot” after she expressed concerns that he attended a flag placing ceremony at a veterans’ cemetery without wearing a face covering, even though he had contact with another board member who tested positive for COVID-19.
During a Monday news briefing, Commissioner Joseph C. Gale, the lone Republican on the three-member commissioners’ board, announced that he joined members of a Conshohocken VFW post to place American flags on the graves of veterans at St. Matthew’s Cemetery in Conshohocken over the weekend.
Gale claimed the event was organized as a response to a previous decision by Democratic commissioners Valerie Arkoosh and Kenneth Lawrence Jr. to postpone the distribution of more than 50,000 flags that organizations typically place on veterans’ graves countywide for Memorial Day.
At the time, Arkoosh said due to the coronavirus outbreak and social distancing recommendations the county would postpone the distribution of the flags until the July 4 holiday.
“It was a very humbling experience to see neighbors come together to honor local heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Gale said about the event, which he added was made possible by generous donations by members of the community so the local VFW could purchase the flags. “I’m humbled to help lead the effort to make sure that our fallen military men and women receive the proper recognition they deserve.”
Arkoosh, saying she was “putting on my doctor hat,” responded she was concerned that Gale attended the event even knowing that he had direct contact with Lawrence, who last week tested positive for COVID-19 and is now in self-isolation for 14 days.
“Commissioner Gale has publicly stated that he refuses to be tested and I have no evidence that he has been tested. And during the event that he just described, Commissioner Gale…did not have a mask on. He was personally handing them flags with no gloves on and closer than six-feet to them in order to hand them those flags,” Arkoosh responded during the virtual news briefing.
“This is not a comment about veterans. This is not a comment about lack of respect for veterans in any way shape or form. But Commissioner Gale should still be in quarantine. Having not been tested, he should be in quarantine for 14 days and I just want to urge others not to copy this type of behavior,” added Arkoosh, who has been quarantining at home since Lawrence announced he tested positive.
“I would urge everyone to please be responsible, to please look out for all the people in our community. Any one of us could be positive, not have symptoms and be contagious. When you are out in public wear a mask and please follow all the social distancing guidance,” Arkoosh continued.
Gale shot back that he will not “be bullied” for honoring fallen veterans and he called Arkoosh’s statement “ridiculous.”
“You don’t need a Hazmat suit, gloves and a mask to put American flags outdoors at a cemetery,” Gale said. “I was there to honor the dead and their families, not to stage a publicity stunt to show how politically correct I am. I’ve been very clear that people should use their own judgment in wearing masks. I’m not going to tell people when to do it or when not to do it.
“I was in the fresh open air and sun of a cemetery and a mask was not necessary in my opinion. It’s completely different than being in a closed capacity such as a SEPTA bus or something similar to that. The people who really need personal protective equipment are the health care workers and the long-term care facility employees,” Gale added.
Gale said he was in contact with Lawrence two weeks ago and added he’s not aware of anyone else testing positive as a result of having had contact with Lawrence.
“That was an uncalled for cheap shot and it’s an attempt to scare the residents of Montgomery County. That was uncalled for to lecture me and lecture the residents of Montgomery County and try to scare them. I know the residents of Montgomery County have had enough of all this nonsense,” said Gale, ending the news briefing.
Meanwhile, during the briefing, officials reported 55 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the county’s death toll to 529 since March 7, when the first two cases of the virus were identified in the county. The latest reported deaths included 32 individuals who died in April and 23 who died in May. The individuals ranged in age from 48 to 96.
“These are now our most current confirmed positive numbers,” Arkoosh said.
To date, 285 females and 244 males have died from the virus in the county. Arkoosh added 461 of the total 529 deaths were individuals who resided in long-term care facilities, comprising about 87 percent of the total deaths.
The 529 total deaths were “confirmed positive” COVID-19 cases through the use of lab tests.
Arkoosh said 155 other deaths in the county have been listed as “probable” COVID-19 deaths. Those are deaths that list COVID-19 as a cause of death on a death certificate but in which there was no laboratory confirmation of the virus.
Additionally, officials reported a total of 173 new positive cases of the virus — 74 on Sunday and 99 on Monday — bringing the county’s total number of cases to 5,963 since March 7. Forty-six of the latest individuals to test positive resided in long-term care facilities in the county and 127 were other residents in the community, according to officials.
The new positive cases included 82 males and 91 females who ranged in age from 5-months to 101 and the individuals were residents of 36 municipalities. At least three of the individuals are known to be hospitalized. To date, all 62 of the county’s municipalities are home to individuals with COVID-19.