CHARDON— After discontent from county residents and elected officials, Geauga Public Health Commissioner Thomas Quade apologized for sharing controversial social media posts regarding COVID-19 vaccines and masking protocols on his personal Facebook account on Sunday.

The now-deleted posts were a form of “sarcasm,” according to Mr. Quade.

“It was a sarcastic post,” Mr. Quade said. “It doesn’t represent my views on any of that, but that context [on his views and beliefs on the matter] was absent. When folks look on a page and they don’t know who you are, it’s very easy then to share that and have it be perceived as representing your thoughts. In retrospect, kind of a dumb move.”

The posts included shared political cartoons and memes about masks, and his own post and comment, amongst others.

“Here’s an incentive idea for encouraging vaccination,” his post read. “If you get vaccinated, and get COVID, you pay nothing for your treatment medical costs. If you’re not vaccinated (or don’t have a medical contraindication for getting vaccinated), your insurance pays nothing for your medical treatment. It’s a natural consequence of your decisions.”

The posts raised concerns at the township level, including Russell Township Trustee Jim Mueller.

“I don’t pay [Mr. Quade] for his sarcasm,” Mr. Mueller told the Times regarding the social media posts. “I pay him for his accuracy and advice on how to beat COVID.”

Mr. Quade stated that residents who are upset over the posts should “take a look at the official Facebook page for the [Geauga Public] Health Department,” adding that his personal posts do not reflect the opinions of the health agency.

“I would encourage residents to know that when you look at somebody’s personal Facebook post, it doesn’t mean that you actually know who they are,” Mr. Quade said. “Don’t think that my personal Facebook post represents [the] entirety of who I am, because it doesn’t. The other thing is, if you’re concerned about that, then say, ‘Does that show up at work?’ and it doesn’t, and I’m very confident about that.”

Geauga County Commissioners voiced their discontent with the health director in their regular meeting on Tuesday, where they agreed to write a letter to the health board citing their disappointment.

Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri, who motioned to write the letter, questioned Mr. Quade’s ability to have an open mind on controversial matters like masking and vaccinations.

“I have to support what the residents are calling us on,” Mr. Spidalieri said. “[Mr. Quade] has been very derogatory in some of his comments and some of his Facebook posts. I understand that it’s his private page, but at the end of the day, it is really expressed [that’s] where he stands on things.

“I think it also puts him in a position of me looking at it [like] he doesn’t have the ability to have an open mind or [look] at the whole circumstance, rather just what he believes,” he continued.

Mr. Spidalieri said that while he did not want to interject his personal beliefs in this situation, he “disagrees a lot” with what Mr. Quade is saying.

“I think he is somewhat of a loose cannon there,” Mr. Spidalieri said, “and he needs to either be reamed or removed.”

Commissioner Timothy Lennon noted the volume of calls from upset residents between the time the posts were made and the meeting on Tuesday.

“I am concerned with the comments,” Mr. Lennon said of Mr. Quade’s Facebook posts. “I understand that it’s [Mr. Quade’s] public Facebook page, but he is supposed to be a trusted public official, and there’s some weight that comes with that. The message that he is trying to put out to protect the public healthwise, he is undermining that with a lot of this antagonistic, aggressive context that goes back towards the population of this county that may not agree with him that are either asking questions or [suggesting] there’s somewhat of a lack of transparency.”

Commissioner James Dvorak said he’s also received calls from concerned residents regarding the posts.

“As delicate as the subject is, comments like Mr. Quade’s really disrespects the good, hard-working people that work for the board of health,” Mr. Dvorak said. “We have a lot of good people in Geauga County working on this hot topic.”

Mr. Quade said that the timing of this situation is “unfortunate,” as he requested to work with the commissioners prior to the posts’ discovery.

“We’re actually doing some pretty good things in the health department,” he said. “Even through COVID, we have just finished the process of national accreditation, which is pretty daunting. This was something that I initially talked to one of the commissioners a few weeks ago about getting on their agenda for the first meeting after [Aug. 24] to talk about that and to share that news with them. This does taint that and that’s unfortunate, but I hope that folks understand that there’s some good stuff happening as well.”

Mr. Quade apologized for the “distraction” that the posts have made and has since deactivated his personal Facebook account.

“I think that the downside to this, and again I accept responsibility for it, is the distraction it created,” Mr. Quade told the Times. “I am a firm believer that you can have a life outside of work, and as long as you keep those two things separate, you do. I’ve learned that even if I try to keep them separate, there are people out there that want to conflate them. While I can’t control who they are and what they do, the fact that it can happen is a reminder to me that maybe social media just isn’t worth it.”

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