Decatur City Commission lifts mask mandateFILE PHOTO: Amy Butner’s protective mask comes with a message. In Korean it reads “Lets Live together.” Downtown Decatur, April 26, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission at a March 2 special called meeting allowed the city’s mask mandate to expire effective at midnight on Wednesday. The vote to lift the ordinance was unanimous.
The city commission adopted the ordinance first in July 2020, and it has been in place with a brief interruption since then.
At the Feb. 22 city commission meeting, City Manager Andrea Arnold requested extending the mask ordinance until March 2, but several commissioners expressed reservations about continuing it. On Feb. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidelines for assessing the community risk of COVID-19 to help communities apply mitigation strategies, including face mask mandates. In a memo dated Feb. 28, Arnold proposed letting the current ordinance expire Wednesday night.
“The CDC guidelines changed the emphasis more away from just the numbers of new cases to putting more of an emphasis on the impact that the virus is having on local hospital systems,” Arnold said. “Specifically, the new guidelines measure new COVID-related hospital admissions over the previous week. It includes percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients and new COVID cases per 100,000 people over the previous week. With this criteria, DeKalb County falls into the ‘low’ community risk level.”
At the low level, the CDC does not have a recommendation for masks and emphasizes promoting vaccinations, improving ventilation in public indoor spaces and ensuring access to testing.
Arnold did note that the local vaccination rate is an “area in which our county is vulnerable.” According to the state, 55% of Georgia residents are fully vaccinated and 58% of DeKalb County residents are fully vaccinated as of March 2. The national average vaccination rate is 69% for those ages five and older.
“Generally, the city, as a whole, has faired relatively well throughout the pandemic. As of last week, the city of Decatur had reported 3,773 COVID cases within the 30030 zip code. That’s just about 3% of all the cases reported in DeKalb County, Arnold said.
But Arnold concluded that under the new CDC guidelines, it’s safe to lift the mask mandate for now.
“Considering the CDC guidelines and the data that the city collects separately, it is my recommendation that the face covering ordinance be allowed to expire with the understanding that we are going to continue to monitor this data, we’ll continue to follow the advice of the CDC and we will assess the need for any changes that may be necessary in the future,” Arnold said.
The ordinance required residents and visitors to wear face masks while in any business, store or other place where goods and services are sold. The requirement did not apply to places of worship or polling places.
Employees of establishments in the city were also required to wear a mask. Individuals who were in outdoor public spaces were required to wear a mask when they couldn’t socially distance.
Businesses in the city were required to post a clearly visible sign near the front entrance notifying patrons of the face mask ordinance and a potential civil penalty. However, business owners could opt out and not consent to enforcement of the ordinance on their property.
Establishments that opted out had to post a sign informing customers they did not consent to enforcement of the ordinance.
Individuals who didn’t comply with the ordinance faced 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.
Mayor Patti Garrett said that the decision to allow the ordinance to expire does not prohibit individual businesses from continuing to require masks on their property or make a different decision than the city.
“I’ve seen the sign no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,” Garrett said. “Individual businesses, if they feel like to protect themselves and their employees would like to continue, then that is within their right to do so.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers thanked the community for their cooperation with the mask ordinance.
“I trust that many people will still continue to do what they feel comfortable doing and what they feel will keep themselves and their families and others safe,” Powers said. “I just want to extend my heartfelt thank you for those in this community who have, mandate or no mandate, continued to do the right thing.”
Mask mandates have been lifted in local schools as well. City Schools of Decatur recently lifted its mask mandate, as did Atlanta and DeKalb County public schools.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated when more information is available.
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