Athens City Council met during an emergency session Friday evening to introduce the possibility of a mask mandate for the city of Athens.
The mandate would require wearing a mask or face covering that covers the nose, mouth and chin in businesses open to the public, city buildings, public transportation and outdoors when a distance of six feet is not possible. The mandate would be enforced by the Athens City Police, and would have a fine of $100.
Those fined could file an appeal to an appeals board created specifically for the issue.
If the fine is not paid within thirty days, the person in question will receive a minor misdemeanor citation to appear in court.
Council will be discussing the ordinance again on Monday night at 7 p.m.
Exceptions to the mandate would include any individuals who cannot wear a face covering for medical or psychological reasons, children under 10 years old, restaurant and bar patrons when dining and school and childcare center individuals. Schools, including Ohio University, cannot be regulated by the city. While moving through restaurants and bars, masks would still be required for patrons.
OU has adopted its own rules requiring face coverings, Mayor Steve Patterson said. Patterson said it was important for the city to also require those coverings because of how connected the city is with OU’s campus.
Other exceptions include situations like the dentist or activities like swimming where it is impractical to wear a mask during, exercising outdoors when distance is possible, exercising in gyms with a six foot distance, work space not intended for the general public when an individual is alone and inside a personal or commercial vehicle.
Exceptions also include public safety employees and emergency responders when it impedes their duties, individuals complying with the instructions of emergency responders and individuals completing a task who would be out of industry compliance standards by wearing a face covering.
The ordinance describes a face covering as a piece of tightly woven cloth fabric or other material that covers the mouth, nose and chin. Coverings should have ear straps or another apparatus to keep it from slipping, according to the ordinance.
Patterson said he anticipates signage being distributed to local businesses that will be provided by the city to remind residents of the ordinance. Additionally, Councilwoman Arian Smedley, D-1st Ward, will be working on an educational campaign to inform citizens of the importance of mask wearing.
Councilwoman Sarah Grace, D-At Large, said she hopes that the fine and court will be a last resort, as the city hopes to provide local businesses with masks to provide to their customers. The city will also provide masks to the police force to distribute as needed.
Grace said she was concerned about the uptick in the number of cases in recent days. There was an increase of 29 cases to 111 cases in Athens County in the span of two weeks.
“The evidence is absolutely indisputable: wearing face masks in public reduces the spread of this disease,” Grace said. “I say that from reading countless research studies, and I say that as someone with a Master's in Public Health. This is not a fact that is debated”
All members of Athens City Council showed support towards the ordinance.
“This is absolutely a critical public health issue,” Councilmember Beth Clodfelter, D-At Large, said. “Here in Athens, I think that it is also a really important economic issue.”
Clodfelter also said she fears that with cases on the rise, parents will keep students home in the fall, causing a large amount of revenue lost for the city.
Councilman Peter Kotses, D-At Large said that to him, the policy is worthwhile if it keeps even one person off of a respirator.
Patterson released a video Thursday evening announcing Council would hold an emergency session to begin the discussions around a face covering mandate for the city.
In the video, Patterson said he felt it was time to see what could be done in the city of Athens after watching cases increase that week, with a total of 90 cases being reported in Athens County Thursday. .
In the video, Patterson encouraged Council to act quickly on the ordinance. The draft of the ordinance will soon be available on the city’s website.