Fayetteville Government Channel
On the agenda…
- Reinstating the city’s mask mandate.
Listed below are the items up for approval and links to PDF documents with detailed information on each item of business.
Present: Sonia Gutierrez, D’Andre Jones, Mark Kinion, Matthew Petty, Mayor Lioneld Jordan, Sloan Scroggin, Sarah Bunch, Teresa Turk
Absent: Holly Hertzberg
1. Mask Mandate (Details):
An ordinance to require persons to wear face masks in public service areas in city-owned buildings and places of public accommodation, subject to reasonable exemptions; and to declare an emergency.
– Pass 7-0
Background: The City Council in June removed the city’s mask mandate by amending the language in the ordinance to simply recommend face coverings for unvaccinated people. The state Legislature later passed a new law banning local governments from adopting mask mandates. The governor signed the measure, but later said he regretted the decision after the COVID Delta variant led to a spike in cases with the school year quickly approaching. He called on legislators to reconvene to amend the law to at least allow public schools to enact mask mandates, but a proposed bill failed in committee. A lawsuit was filed challenging the ban, and an Arkansas judge on Friday temporarily blocked the state from enforcing its ban.
The new mandate can only be effective as long as the state is blocked from enforcing the ban.
Council Member Matthew Petty said this ordinance is mostly the same as the previous ordinance, with two differences. First, businesses would not be required to refuse service to unmasked customers with this new ordinance. Second, the requirement is set to be reconsidered either when the governor’s emergency declaration ends or when the city’s Board of Health determines that mask are no longer needed for vaccinated people.
Here are the exceptions to the proposed mandate:
City Health Officer Marti Sharkey said the time has come to take new action to address the surge.
“The concern that area hospitals could become overwhelmed is a now a reality,” Sharkey said, adding that there are currently 141 people hospitalized locally with the virus. She said 124 ICU beds are currently in use across the region with both COVID and non-COVID patients.
Sharkey said while vaccines are a longterm solution, wearing a mask is the most effective way to curb the spike in cases the area is currently seeing.
“Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic, but masks are our way out of this surge,” she said.
During public comment, eight people spoke in favor of the mandate, and two people spoke against it. Those against said vaccinated people don’t need masks and that a mandate would be unenforceable. Those in favor said not everyone is vaccinated and masks are the best way to prevent spread among unvaccinated people.
Council Member Scroggin said he’s very worried about the overloaded hospitals.
“Right now I might not even be able to take my child to the ER,” Scroggin said. “We have to do something, and honestly, this is doing very little.”
Council Member Kinion said there are a lot of statistics being thrown around about vaccines, but it’s clear they are effective.
“Vaccines work,” said Kinion, “But we do not have the capacity right now to mandate vaccines.”
Kinion said mandating safety measures is nothing new and mentioned seatbelts as one requirement that governments have mandated in an effort to protect citizens.
Council Member Turk said the area is in a medical crisis and with the school year approaching, safety measures must be put into place.
“Children under 12 still are not eligible to receive the vaccine,” said Turk. “We really need to be thinking about protecting our children.”
Council Member Bunch said it’s inconvenient to wear a mask, but for her, the decision is easy.
“It’s not that I enjoy wearing a mask or oppressing people,” said Bunch. “But if we can take small measures to protect our citizens, then let’s do it.”
Council Member Jones said he doesn’t understand why people are resistant to wearing masks, especially at a time when cases are surging and people are getting sick at a much higher level.
Council Member Gutierrez said next to vaccines, masks are the best tool that people have to protect themselves right now.
“The sooner that we all subscribe to that, the sooner that this can be over,” said Gutierrez. “Otherwise there will be more variants that could be more contagious.”
Council Member Petty said he wants business owners to know they are not required to enforce the mandate.
“But you are welcome to require people to wear masks,” he said. “And we encourage you to do so.”
The council advanced the ordinance to the third reading, and voted 7-0 to approve it. Council members also voted 7-0 to approve an emergency clause to put the mandate into effect immediately. Hertzberg was not present for the meeting.
This meeting was adjourned at 6:50 p.m.