Fayetteville approves temporary mask mandate during Omicron surge

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FAYETTEVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to approve a temporary mask mandate to coincide with a recent spike in new COVID-19 cases.

The city’s previous mandate expired Dec. 23, but with the Omicron variant’s surge leading to record highs for new cases, Council Member Teresa Turk called for a new ordinance that would temporarily require masks indoors in public places and city-owned buildings.

Turk said the variant’s history in other countries indicates that while it has greater infectious ability, local cases could see a rapid decline after the initial surge. Because of that possibility, the mandate was written to automatically terminate on March 2, unless the council extends it before then.

City Attorney Kit Williams said the temporary mandate does not have an enforcement section in it, but that doesn’t mean businesses can’t still set their own policies and enforce mask wearing for their customers.

Turk told the council the variant is running rampant right now, and that the state on Tuesday reported the highest number of virus-related hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

“I’m tired of wearing the masks and and I know everyone else is, too, but I think these steps are necessary so our healthcare system doesn’t collapse,” said Turk. “And I think it’s important that we send a strong message of mask support to our citizens.”

Hertzberg said with no way of enforcing the policy, she could not support it.

“I don’t think it’s going to be beneficial and I don’t think people are going to follow it,” said Hertzberg.

Scroggin said he also thinks enforceability is important.

“It makes us look kind of silly if we have laws that we can’t enforce,” he said.

Turk said regardless of enforceability, private business owners who want to require masks in their own buildings might feel more comfortable if there was a city mandate already in place.

Council Member Sonia Harvey agreed, and said if more business owners require masks, then more of their employees can potentially be protected.

“It’s just responsible at this point as a city to stand up for workers,” she said.

Hertzberg said the council doesn’t have the power to change public opinion and everyone has already made up their mind about masking.

Council Member Mark Kinion said he knows people have made up their minds, but he’d be voting in favor to show that he cares about the health of the community.

“My personal values say that we should be wearing masks, which is why I will be supporting this,” Kinion said.

Scroggin seemed reluctant before the vote. He said he personally thinks wearing a mask is the right thing to do, but he doesn’t think a mandate will change anyone’s mind.

“This is, at best, virtue signaling, but I guess I will do it with you all,” he said.

Hertzberg was the only council member to vote against the proposal.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan said he fully supports the measure and he plans to begin requiring masks in city buildings immediately.

“We may not be able to enforce this city-wide, but I can enforce it in these buildings and I will,” Jordan told the council. “This place will be masked up starting tomorrow.”

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