Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has joined four councilors in support of a proposed ordinance that would require face coverings to be worn when in public places in the city to help stifle the spread of COVID-19.
In a series of tweets on Friday, Stimpson wrote about the importance of the action, given the rise in new coronavirus cases in the county.
“There is no question that masks can prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Stimpson wrote. “The virus is actively spreading in our community and remains a serious threat to public health. We made this step in consultation with public health experts. They felt strongly that this ordinance is needed to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
The ordinance, sponsored by Stimpson and Mobile City Council members Bess Rich, Joel Daves and Levon Manzie, has also gained the support of Councilman Fred Richardson before a possible vote Tuesday. Richardson and others pushed for a mask mandate earlier during the pandemic, but a lack of support at the time limited it to a recommendation.
“I’m going to support it,” Richardson said in a phone interview Monday morning. “I think masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We know in places that have mask ordinances the virus isn’t as bad.”
The proposal would enact fines of $50 for a first offense and $100 for a second offense and would only apply to areas within the city limits and police jurisdiction.
The ordinance follows Gov. Kay Ivey’s previous public health orders related to exemptions for places of business, which means masks would not be required in office settings. However, although not specifically spelled out, Daves said he would look to add language to the ordinance requiring masks be worn by retail and restaurant employees.
By the time it’s voted on, the ordinance will also have stronger language requiring masks to be worn by retail customers. There will also likely be an exemption for patrons of restaurants and bars.
The ordinance makes exceptions for those 2 years old and younger and for activities in an outdoor space where social distancing can be practiced. The exception does not include parking lots or crowded sidewalks. There is also an exception for those “persons for whom wearing a face covering poses a substantial mental or physical health, safety or security risk.”
Daves said he has supported the idea of a mask ordinance for a while, but didn’t think enforcement would have been possible earlier because Stimpson was not on board. The District 5 representative said it makes sense to follow guidelines set out by public health officials.
“A: there’s no doubt the virus is spreading,” he said. “B: every responsible public health agency in the country has recommended masks be worn and C: we urged people to wear masks and it wasn’t successful.”
In a statement, Rich wrote she would support the ordinance because it’s temporary and similar to smoking bans at restaurants. It is supported by the Mobile County Medical Society and the Mobile County Health Department, she wrote.
“They are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases locally and are concerned that should this trend persist there could be another mandate to shut down businesses,” Rich wrote. “They believe that wearing a mask has a role in containing the spread of the virus.”
Rich also wrote that she hopes the ordinance will be voted on and passed on Tuesday.
In a press conference Monday in front of USA Health University Hospital, Chief Medical Officer Michael Chang said the wearing of face coverings not only protects the wearer, but also protects the person or persons who come in contact with the wearer. As for adverse impacts on breathing, Chang said cloth face coverings or surgical masks do not restrict the body’s ability to take in oxygen or breathe out carbon dioxide at all.
The ordinance will be debated as a new agenda item so a councilor could withhold unanimous consent and force a vote on it, by council rules, to be delayed by a week.
Councilman John Williams has indicated in an interview with Sean Sullivan on FM Talk 106.5 that he will indeed withhold unanimous consent and delay the vote by a week. In an interview with Lagniappe, Williams said he believes the issue needs more time for debate.
“This is certainly not one to rush to vote on,” he said.
If passed, it’s unclear when the ordinance would take effect. The ordinance would be enforced within the city limits and the police jurisdiction.
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