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Decatur City Commission extends face mask ordinance until Nov. 1

COVID-19 Decatur Trending

Decatur City Commission extends face mask ordinance until Nov. 1

FILE PHOTO USED FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES: Certified Nursing Assistant Ronnalynn Collins smiles from behind her protective mask and shield in downtown Decatur on July 31, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission voted unanimously on Sept. 27 to extend the city’s face mask ordinance until Nov. 1. The was reinstated the ordinance on Aug. 16 and expired on Sept. 27.

“Georgia and DeKalb County, in terms of vaccination rates, still lag behind the U.S.,” City Manager Andrea Arnold said.

As of Sept. 27, 47% of Georgia residents and 51% of DeKalb County residents are fully vaccinated, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

According to the COVID data tracker from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 66.6% of the U.S. population who is 18 and older is fully vaccinated and 55.4% of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

Arnold added that local hospitals are also feeling the impacts of COVID-19. With the majority of COVID-19 patients being unvaccinated, hospital emergency departments have reported being overcrowded and severely overcrowded, and have to divert incoming ambulance traffic intermittently, she said.

“For those reasons and also the fact that the CDC is continuing to recommend the use of face coverings by people who are fully vaccinated, for those reasons I recommend that we do continue to have our face covering ordinance in place,” Arnold said.

The ordinance requires residents and visitors to wear face masks while in any business, store or other place where goods and services are sold. The requirement does not apply to places of worship or polling places.

Employees of establishments in the city are also required to wear a mask, and those who are in outdoor public spaces are required to wear a mask when they cannot social distance.

Businesses in the city must post a clearly visible sign near the front entrance notifying patrons of the face mask ordinance and a potential civil penalty.

Businesses, however, can opt out and not consent to enforcement of the ordinance on their property. Establishments that opt out will have to post a sign informing customers they do not consent to enforcement of the ordinance.

Individuals who don’t comply with the ordinance can face a civil penalty of up to $25 on the first offense, and up to $50 on the second offense and any subsequent offenses, according to the ordinance.

Arnold said the compliance rate among business owners has been high, but encouraged individuals to reach out to her office if a business is not complying with the ordinance. The city will reach out to the business owner or manager, she said.

Additionally, Arnold announced that effective Sept. 27, city of Decatur employees are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“This policy closely aligns with President Biden’s executive orders from Sept. 9,” Arnold said. “Specifically, our employees, full-time and part-time employees, they must be vaccinated by Nov. 30, so about two months from now.”

Employees who do not get a COVID-19 vaccine will be subject to regular COVID-19 testing, most likely two times a week. For jobs posted as early as Sept. 28, new hires will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“This was a decision that was not made lightly,” Arnold said. “Ultimately, I decided that this is the right approach. I do believe, especially as local government employees, as people that serve the public, I think we actually have a greater duty than other private sector organizations out there to make sure that we are doing everything that we possibly can to keep ourselves healthy and also to make sure that we’re not doing harm when we’re serving people in our community.”

She added that the policy document is still in progress and the details will be made available to all employees soon.

“I appreciate our employees understanding,” Arnold said. “I shared early last week that this was a consideration and the feedback that I did receive from our employees has been overwhelmingly positive, and I do certainly hope that continues to be the case.”

The City Commission also adopted a COVID-19 leave policy that would provide paid leave for city employees that is separate from the city’s current sick, medical sick and vacation policies.

Under the policy, eligible employees include full-time and part-time employees who are fully vaccinated.

Full-time employees are entitled to up to two weeks of COVID-19 leave. Part-time employees are entitled to the average number of hours the employee works over a two-week period.

According to the policy, an employee can use the leave if they are subject to quarantine or isolation orders related to COVID-19; if they have tested positive for COVID-19; if they are experiencing symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; the employee has been exposed to the virus; if they are caring for someone else who has tested positive; and if the employee is caring for a child or dependent if their school or childcare has been closed.

The policy will expire on June 30, 2022.

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