COVINGTON, Ga. — A motion made Monday night to pass a mandatory face covering ordinance in the city of Covington failed 4-2.
If the proposed ordinance would have been adopted, it would have required people to wear a mask on public property if unable to social distance, including inside and outside public buildings. Exemptions would have included private property. The only way the city could enforce the mandate on private property would be if the property owner posted notices that masks were required, City Attorney Frank Turner, Jr., said.
Other exemptions included eating, drinking, being with family or being in a car.
If the ordinance had passed, the city would have been prompted to make masks available for those who did not have one or could not afford one.
Those not abiding by the proposed ordinance could have been issued a misdemeanor and fined up to $50. Any law enforcement officer would have had the authority to issue a citation.
The proposed ordinance would have fallen under the guidelines of Gov. Brian Kemp's latest renewal of COVID-19 restrictions, which now allows local governments to institute a mask mandate if its respective county has had 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks.
Before the ordinance went to a vote, several questions about the ordinance were prompted by the council including, what other cities have adopted a similar ordinance?
According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, there were 15 cities and counties across the state with mask mandates, including DeKalb and Hancock counties, with more expected to follow suit. Tuesday — one day after the council’s meeting — the Newton County Board of Commissioners approved its own mask mandate.
Another question asked by the council: who decides how masks are supposed to be worn?
Per the governor’s order, covering the nose and mouth is the proper way to wear a face covering, Turner said.
Councilwoman Susie Keck suggested such a mandate might be necessary for the local COVID-19 transmission rate to go down.
“Well it’s one of those situations that, who knows what is right?” Keck said. “But our numbers are higher than a lot of others, so I just think it wouldn’t hurt. We’re going to get grief either way, but I’d rather get grief on the [side] of helping people not spread COVID.”
Councilman Don Floyd disagreed, saying the ordinance likely wouldn’t help much, if at all.
“I don’t think this will change anybody’s behavior,” he said.
Keck later made the initial motion to approve the ordinance; Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams seconded. The remaining council members voted against the ordinance causing it to fail.
“I just want to clarify for those out there listening, I’m not into asking government to make us do things,” Keck said after the vote. “But I’m at a loss for what to do about COVID. Being the wife of a husband with a heart condition, I’m willing to try anything to try and slow down the COVID spread. So, don’t think I’m out here trying to control your life. I’m just out here trying to stop COVID.
Councilman Anthony Henderson also took time to explain why he voted against the mandate. He said he wasn’t opposed to wearing masks, but he was against controlling others to do so, saying it was a choice the public needed to make on its own.
In other business, the council:
- Approved the issuance of a license to Three One Four Group, LLC, dab Your Pie, to sell alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption only.
- Approved a property and casualty insurance renewal with Travelers.
- Approved a tourism promotion contract with the Covington Downtown and Tourism Association, Inc.
- Approved a resolution authorizing for hedging natural gas through Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia (MGAG).
- Approved a budget amendment to move monies for arborist duties from Planning & Zoning to Public Works. The total amount moved was $49,668.
- Approved contracting additional work at the Covington Municipal Airport with Croy CA/CI Services and Pittman Construction in the amount of $107,011. Maintenance was required due to cracking on existing payment surfaces.
- Approved a Shared Leave Bank for employees of the City of Covington. It is a voluntary program that allows employees to share sick leave and “look out for each other.” City officials said the shared leave bank was a program other cities across the state have.
- Entered into executive session to discuss land opportunity and personnel issues.