City of Athens sign

This city sign is located on the Stimson Avenue roundabout. File art.

After the Center for Disease Control modified its guidance on face coverings this month, Athens City Council amended its existing ordinance mandating the use of face masks in the city.

The ordinance, which was originally introduced at an emergency committee in June of last year, required face coverings in public spaces in the city of Athens, including inside of businesses that are open to the public and at outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible.

Athens City Council at its Monday meeting passed as an emergency an amendment, introduced by all councilmembers in committee, to the city’s mask ordinance.

Under the revised ordinance, those moving about the city who are fully vaccinated (meaning they received two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) may do so without a face mask, “except where required by federal, state, local tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations including local businesses and workplace guidance.”

The amendment to the city-wide mask mandate also states that those who are fully vaccinated would not need to physically distance themselves, unless physical distance is required for work or by federal or state regulations.

The ordinance was extended by City Council to sunset Dec. 31, 2021, but it can be rescinded by the body before that time. However, Ohio will lift the state mask mandate and all remaining state coronavirus health orders except those for nursing homes and assisted living facilities on June 2, Gov. Mike DeWine announced this month.

Under the ordinance’s previous version, face masks must cover an individual’s nose, mouth and chin, and must be worn when entering and exiting as well as inside of businesses open to the public and buildings operated by the city of Athens. Face coverings are also required on all forms of public transportation in the city, including buses, public transits, taxis and rideshares.

During the meeting, City Council suspended the rules and expedited the voting process on the ordinance, which went into effect immediately after passing. All members voted in favor of the measure.

“The CDC did not give us a month before changing their guidelines,” Councilmember Sarah Grace said during the meeting. “But we’d like to respond and reflect their guideline changes as quickly as possible.”

The amendment to the mandate comes at a time where reports of COVID-19 cases are dwindling within the county, with 34 active cases of the virus as of Monday, according to the Athens City-County Health Department. However, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson noted that another surge of the virus could be possible, as a third surge has been witnessed in other small towns across the world.

“We’re not out of the woods for the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said during the meeting.

Councilmember Grace noted that businesses, per the amendment, may still require people entering their facilities to wear face masks regardless of their vaccination status.

Non-compliant individuals of the mandate could incur a $100 civil fine for refusing to put on a face covering. The fine would be noncriminal, meaning it would not appear on a person’s criminal record.

Before the amendment was passed to exempt people who are fully vaccinated in the city, exceptions were also made for individuals who have medical conditions, mental health conditions or developmental disabilities. Children under 10 years old are also exempt.

The updated ordinance can be viewed on the city of Athens website.

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