Updated: Jul 10, 2020
By Joe Johnson
It will become mandatory in Athens-Clarke County this week to wear masks or other forms of face coverings while in public.
County Commissioners Tuesday night unanimously approved the ordinance that will require that people cover their noses and mouths while in public to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the deadly COVID-19 disease.
The ordinance goes into effect from 8 a.m. Thursday, July 9, until the end of the day on Tuesday, Aug. 4 unless extended, ended, or amended by the mayor and commission, according to a notice on the county’s website.
A first and second violation or the ordinance is punishable by a $25 fine, and the third and subsequent violations are punishable by a $100 fine.
The measure was approved as Georgia became the ninth state to surpass the 100,000 mark of confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Nationally, there have been more than three million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 133,000 deaths, with no signs of the global pandemic abating. Athens-Clarke has reported 775 confirmed cases of the virus and has experienced 15 deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The Athens Banner-Herald reported that County Commissioner Russell Edwards said that he heard Tuesday morning that Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center had 27 COVID-19 patients, seven of whom were in intensive care, and that St. Mary’s Hospital had eight COVID-19 patients, with two in the ICU.
The Athens-Clarke ordinance was approved a week after Savannah became the first city in Georgia to make masks mandatory.
There are exceptions to the local ordinance:
In personal vehicles and religious establishments;
Persons who are alone in enclosed spaces or are only with other household members;
During outdoor physical activity, provided the person observes social distancing of at least six feet;
While drinking, eating, or smoking;
When wearing a face covering causes or aggravates a health condition;
When wearing a face covering would prevent the receipt of personal services;
When a person is 10 years of age or younger.
The ordinance does not require medical grade masks. Face coverings may be fashioned from scarves, bandanas, or other suitable fabrics or face shields. The mask must cover the mouth and nose of the wearer. Information about how to make cloth face coverings is available through the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government (ACCGov) COVID-19 website at www.accgov.com/coronavirus.
ACCGov has also obtained some reusable cloth face covers for public distribution through the Transit Department, at ACCGov public facilities, and through community partners such as the Clarke County School District food distribution pods, the Athens Community Council on Aging, and the Athens Free Clinic mobile COVID-19 testing unit. Additional cloth masks and community distribution for those who are unable to obtain or make their own is forthcoming.
The ordinance also requires persons entering commercial establishments to wear face coverings or masks while inside. While the requirement does not apply to religious establishments, the use of face covers is highly recommended during religious activity. All restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores, and pharmacies must require their employees to wear a face cover while having face-to-face interaction with the public.
Persons who are unable to safely wear a face covering due to age or an underlying health condition or who are unable to remove a face covering without the assistance of others are exempt from the ordinance.
The full ordinance, along with other COVID-19 information, local responses, and information about how to make face covers from materials at home, is available at www.accgov.com/coronavirus.