Athens City Council Considering Ordinance Requiring Face Coverings In Public

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Athens City Council is one step closer to approving an ordinance requiring face masks in public places. 

Council members, the mayor, and community members discussed the merits of  the current draft  during at a committee of the whole emergency meeting on Friday evening conducted via video conference.

Screenshot of Athens City Council special session July 10, 2020.

Athens County has seen a spike of COVID-19 cases in July, and a number of uptown businesses have closed again. 

City Council will conduct a first reading of the measure in another emergency meeting on Monday, July 13, at 7p.m. Council could decide to suspend the rules that require additional discussion and pass the ordinance in that special session

As it’s written, the ordinance requires people to cover their nose and mouth while entering, exiting, or waiting to enter businesses; city buildings, and public transportation. It also requires people to wear a mask in the city while outdoors if they are unable to remain at least six feet apart from people.

There are several exceptions to the requirement. These include individuals with medical conditions, mental health conditions, or developmental disabilities; children under 10 years old; individuals walking or exercising while remaining six feet apart; restaurant and bar patrons who are eating and drinking; and public safety employees who may have a limited capacity to do their job while masked. 

Anyone cited in violation of the proposed ordinance would receive a $100 fine payable to the city via the Athens Police Department. Citizens would be able to appeal the ordinance. And, those who do not request an appeal or pay the fine within 30 days would receive a minor misdemeanor citation.

Each council member said he or she was in support of the ordinance. Some had clarifying questions or suggestions, including Beth Clodfelter, city council representative at-large, who said a $100 fine may be too steep in a time when many have lost jobs or had reduced hours. 

I think it could be considered almost punitive to people who are struggling financially,” she said. 

Grace said she does not think police officers will immediately walk up to people and give them a fine. 

“People are gonna be given plenty of opportunities to comply before they would have a cost assessed to them,” she said. 

Several community members also voiced their opinions.

Road Sign reads "Be kind. Mask on."
Yellow Springs is the first municipality in Ohio to pass an ordinance requiring mask-wearing and social distancing. [Jason Saul | WYSO]
Kellye Blosser said she did not think the exception for people eating and drinking at bars and restaurants would be enough to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“When we flattened the curve we were in lockdown, we didn’t have open bars, we didn’t have open restaurants, we didn’t have open coffee shops,” she said.

“I don’t think this will keep us safe and I strongly urge all of you to look at this list of exemptions. …frankly, with these exemptions none of us are going to be safe.”

Grace responded by saying Council did not take any of the exemptions lightly. City Law Director Lisa Eliason added the Ohio Department of Health already mandates six feet between tables or groupings in bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.

Brittan Posey asked how the city was addressing house parties and large gatherings.

“House parties are obviously a big issue and obviously, in other areas such as Florida, are causes of a big spike in cases,” Posey said.

Mayor Steve Patterson said the Athens City Police Department can respond to large gatherings and remind people that Governor Mike DeWine’s order preventing groups of 10 people or more gathering is still in effect.