Following nearly three hours of debate, the Mobile City Council passed a temporary ordinance requiring facial coverings be worn in public spaces by a 6-1 margin.
The vote evoked passionate responses from opponents, with one woman shouting “heil Hitler” after the final tally was taken. She had previously called the ordinance “Nazism.”
The ordinance, which was sponsored by Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Council President Levon Manzie and councilors Joel Daves and Bess Rich, requires masks to be worn in many public spaces, including retail stores, transportation services, crowded sidewalks and other areas where social distancing recommendations cannot be followed. It does not apply to private office buildings or outdoor spaces or activities where social distancing can be maintained.
City spokesman George Talbot told Lagniappe the ordinance would not apply to bar and restaurant patrons. The ordinance, which will sunset in a month, also does not impact residents in their personal vehicles or homes. Children under 10 years old are also exempt from the ordinance. The ordinance also does not apply to residents or others who have a medical issue that prevents them from wearing a mask.
The vote comes a day after councilors heard from nine local doctors, including the chief medical officers of the local hospitals and the Mobile County Health Department. All the doctors urged councilors to pass the ordinance in order to help restrict the spread of COVID-19.
City Councilman John Williams single-handedly withheld unanimous consent to move the issue forward on Tuesday, which forced Manzie to call Wednesday’s special meeting.
“If we have to endure a few moments, a few days so we can live, so more people in our community can live then I’m all for it,” Manzie said.
According to Stimpson, the ordinance could go into effect as early as Friday.
The full ordinance can be reviewed below:
Violations of the new ordinance can result in a fine of $50 for a first offense or $100 for each subsequent offense, but Stimpson also acknowledged the difficulty in enforcing the ordinance. He said police officers are ultimately just looking for compliance, adding the city would be distributing 14,000 masks to officers to hand out to residents not wearing them.
“Our focus will be to help citizens comply with this,” he said. “I really believe we can make this work.”
Despite Stimpson’s assurances that enforcement would not be a focus, opponents were still unhappy and didn’t want to comply. One opponent of the ordinance called the COVID-19 pandemic a “hoax.” Others suggested councilors only encourage businesses to adopt masking policies, and not bring law enforcement into the equation.
During the meeting, Stimpson and councilors argued that a mask ordinance could actually help keep businesses open because patrons who hadn’t ventured out of their homes much would feel more comfortable doing so. Some also noted a number of local businesses have already had to temporarily close to disinfect after staff members tested positive for the disease.
“Some businesses in my district have closed for good,” Councilwoman Gina Gregory said. “People are afraid to go into shops.They’re older people, but they have money to spend and they want to go into brick and mortar shops.”
Though he shared some of his colleagues’ concerns about the disease itself, Williams criticized the speed with which they passed the ordinance. He also questioned some of the definitions, including the term “crowded sidewalk” or the type of fabric used for masks.
“To me, a crowded sidewalk means New York City on New Year’s Eve, or in Mobile, Alabama at the MoonPie near the stage,” he said. “We need to be very careful when we make statements.”
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