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Commission Reinstates Mask Ordinance as Delta Cases Rise

Mayor Kelly Girtz during the Aug. 3 commission meeting. Screencap via YouTube.

Athens-Clarke County’s mask ordinance took effect this morning once again after commissioners unanimously renewed it.

The commission allowed the ordinance to lapse in May, but after being very low all summer, the COVID-19 infection rate has skyrocketed in recent weeks. There were 82 confirmed cases in Clarke County on Tuesday, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the most since Jan. 28. Local hospitals’ intensive care units are filling up with COVID patients again and are now nearly full.

The mask requirement applies to all indoor ACC facilities, as well as businesses, unless a business opts out. There are some exceptions, such as for eating and drinking and children under 10. The full ordinance can be read here.

It will give businesses cover to require masks, Commissioner Russell Edwards said.

“Now they can point to this ordinance as an explanation to avoid conflict with their patrons,” Edwards said. “If they don’t want to do it, they can simply opt out. Now, let’s flatten the curve once again.”

The vote came after dozens of unmasked people crowded into City Hall to speak against a temporary homeless camp on county property.

“Tonight’s scene in here, with dozens of non-masked individuals, this is the reason we need a mask ordinance,” Commissioner Melissa Link said. “It’s a shame that so many care so little about their fellow human beings that they won’t wear their masks, and it’s really a shame that UGA hasn’t passed a mandatory mask rule on campus. Those of us who work on campus are really scared, especially those of us who are caregivers who are very vulnerable or who have small children.”

The ordinance will sunset Sept. 8 unless commissioners renew it, or it will cease being enforced if cases per 100,000 people within a 14-day window drops below 100. That figure stood at 257 on Tuesday.

Commissioner Tim Denson added a provision stating that the mask ordinance would no longer be in effect if Clarke County’s vaccination rate reaches 80%. It is currently 40%. Vaccinations have slowed recently, but Mayor Kelly Girtz said the Northeast Health District is set to announce incentives next week.

With the Delta variant being far more contagious than past strains of COVID, Link suggested that the mask mandate be extended to big outdoor events this fall.

“They’ll be outdoors, but the Delta variant is so contagious that these are very likely to be super-spreader events,” she said.

The commission also unanimously passed a resolution requiring Manager Blaine Williams to come up with a plan by Sept. 1 for requiring ACC employees to be vaccinated.

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