The Athens-Clarke County Commission will vote tonight on an emergency ordinance requiring people to wear face coverings while inside businesses.
In addition, employees at grocery stores, pharmacies, other retail stores, salons and restaurants would be required to wear face coverings while interacting with the public.
Religious establishments are exempt, although wearing face coverings is “highly recommended.” People who can’t safely wear a mask due to age, an underlying health condition or an inability to remove the mask are also exempt, as are children under 11 years old. Face coverings would not be required in cars, outdoors when a six-feet distance can be maintained, while alone or with other household members, or while eating, drinking or smoking.
While the ordinance says that “every effort shall be made to bring an individual into voluntary compliance,” it sets a fine of up to $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second and $100 for further offenses. If approved, it will take effect Wednesday morning.
Athens would be the second city in Georgia to enact a face-mask requirement, following Savannah. Gov. Brian Kemp’s emergency orders during the COVID-19 pandemic encourage but don’t require mask-wearing, and prohibit local governments from enacting their own regulations. Kemp said during a stop in Brunswick last week that his legal team is looking into Savannah’s action.
“The mayor [Van Johnson] and I agree on the policy,” Kemp said. “You should be wearing a mask and that’s what I encourage people to do.”
ACC’s proposed ordinance includes legal justifications for the local government’s ability to mandate face coverings.
Wearing cloth face coverings slows the spread of coronavirus—especially for people who are infected but asymptomatic—by blocking airborne droplets that contain the virus when the wearer speaks, laughs, sings, sneezes or coughs, according to the CDC.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases have been spiking in Clarke County, with nearly 300 positive tests in the past week, bringing the total to 775.
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