Athens City Council Reimposes Universal Mask Mandate

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The Athens City Council on Monday approved an ordinance that once again requires all people, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask inside any public space.

The ordinance, which passed unanimously, takes effect immediately.

In May, as vaccination rates were rising and COVID-19 cases were declining, the council amended its mask mandate to no longer include those who were vaccinated.

But the Delta variant is driving case numbers back up and Athens County has moved from moderate transmission to substantial transmission status under the CDC’s ranking system.

The council discussed reimposing the mask mandate on everyone at last week’s meeting but decided it needed some legal advice before moving forward. Senate Bill 22, which was passed into law last year over the governor’s objections, prohibits a local board of health from imposing broad-based mask mandates.

So the question was whether under the new law the City Council can impose such a mandate. Athens’ law director, Lisa Eliason, said it can.

“We are a statutory city,” she said. “This means we can examine what’s going on in our city and make a decision as to the public’s health and safety of the residents.”

Council member Sam Crowl said at Monday’s meeting that this is not a political decision but “a public health decision.” 

The new rules are simple, said Ben Ziff, a council member at-large and manager of Donkey Coffee.

“If you don’t have one on, you can’t come in,” he said. “That’s all there is to it realistically. I’m sure there are going to be people who are upset about that, and I will be as kind as I can possibly be, but if you don’t have one on, you can’t come in.”