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Decatur City Commission extends mask ordinance, approves vaccine incentive program


Decatur City Commission extends mask ordinance, approves vaccine incentive program

Chris McCue (l), Mark Haynes and other customers wearing protective masks wait in line to enter Revolution Doughnuts in Decatur May 9. Photo by Dean Hesse.

By Cathi Harris, contributor 

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission on Feb. 16 voted unanimously to extend its mask ordinance Tuesday, continuing it until at least March 21.

“Since the public health emergency described in the original ordinance is still in effect, it is our recommendation that we extend this until March,” City Manager Andrea Arnold said.

Information from the health department indicates that cases are starting to decline locally, but community spread and the hospital ICU utilization rates are still high, Arnold told commissioners.

Decatur’s ordinance requires masks to be worn in public and most indoor spaces. It was originally passed by the City Commission on July 20 and has been extended several times since then.

“We are in a bit of a new phase, where we are starting to be hopeful, some folks are getting vaccinated and we are seeing lower numbers,” Commissioner Kelly Walsh said. “Some jurisdictions have chosen to remove their mandates, but I don’t think we are there yet with removing ours.”

The commission also voted to approve an incentive program to encourage city employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available to them through the state’s vaccination rollout plan.

When a city employee receives both required doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, they will receive vacation hours in equivalent of their regular work day or work shift added to their bank of vacation time, said Tracy Carter, Decatur’s director of human resources. Employees will also receive one health credit for each dose as part of the city’s voluntary wellness program.

Health credits can be used to receive reductions in the cost of the employee’s health insurance.

In addition, participating employees will be eligible to win a $25 gift card. The city will raffle off 16 of the gift cards to employees who get vaccinated.

“It is a voluntary incentive program,” Carter told the commission. “We want to encourage them to take this step and help us stop the spread of the coronavirus.”

City staff worked quickly to put the program together because some of the city’s first responders are already eligible to get the vaccine through the state’s vaccine rollout program. 

The human resources department is also planning several education initiatives designed to help employees get accurate information about the vaccine, she said. These include sponsoring expert speaker forums and distribution of printed informational materials to make sure they have accurate information about the vaccines.

“We know that there may not just be one tool or one incentive that is going to be the silver bullet that will convince everyone to do this,” Carter added. “We want to do everything possible to get information to our employees. At the end of the day, we want our employees to be healthy, and we want their families to be protected and healthy, and the public they serve to be healthy as well.”

In other news:

-Peter Helfrich, chair of Beecatur – Bee City USA, provided an update of the nonprofit’s work to encourage Decatur to become more friendly to bees and other pollinators. The organization has held a number of educational initiatives to encourage the planting of pollinator-friendly landscaping across the city, and they have received grant funding to support their two local pollinator gardens at Willow Lane and the Decatur cemetery. This year, they have again submitted paperwork to be designated a Bee City through the Xerces Foundation for Invertebrate Conservation and will conduct educational outreach about the dangers of mosquito spraying in urban landscapes. So far, 81 residential property owners have taken the pollinator pledge to take steps to support pollinators in their yards. 

-Kay Evanovich, Decatur’s arborist, reminded residents that the city’s annual Arbor Day tree giveaway event is Feb. 20 at Legacy Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Legacy Park is located at 500 South Columbia Drive. Residents interested in obtaining free seedlings for planting in their yards should text Evanovich at 770-686-6279 with your name, the address where the seedlings will be planted, and the number and type of trees requested. Available species include cherrybark oak, blackhaw, and dogwood, although there are only two dogwoods left, she said. You can drive-through the Arbor Day event on Saturday to pick up the seedlings.

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