FAYETTEVILLE — The City Council will consider requiring masks only for unvaccinated people in most indoor public places at its next meeting Tuesday.
The change to the city’s mask mandate, if adopted, would remain in effect until July 28. At that point, a state law invalidating any city’s mask mandate will go into effect, barring any legal challenges.
The city’s current ordinance, adopted in June, requires face coverings in most indoor public places. Businesses must provide masks to customers, and anyone who declines to wear a mask is to be declined entry. The city has been providing disposable masks to businesses for free.
The new proposal says the mandate only would apply to people who aren’t yet fully vaccinated against covid-19. Other exemptions, such as when people are eating or drinking, or in small groups when social distancing is possible, or in outdoor settings, or if people have a condition preventing them from getting vaccinated, would still apply.
The changes are a response to updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying fully vaccinated people can go maskless without social distancing in most circumstances. City Attorney Kit Williams presented a draft of the updated mask mandate during the council’s agenda session Tuesday.
“What it does is say that for unvaccinated people the mask mandate is still there, because they are endangering themselves and others if they are in close contact or interior settings,” he said.
The city’s Board of Health also came up with a set of nine recommendations for the City Council to consider.
Marti Sharkey, the city’s public health officer, said the board wanted its guidelines to align with the latest science.
“What we are learning is that vaccines are highly effective in preventing not just infection, but your ability to transmit the virus and your potential for getting severely ill,” she said.
The board recommends residents get vaccinated as quickly as possible, and residents should wear masks until fully vaccinated. Those fully vaccinated can go maskless but should still wear one if in a health care setting, bus, jail or shelter for homeless. The board also acknowledges knowing who is and isn’t vaccinated isn’t feasible, and any vaccinated person who wants to continue to wear a mask should feel comfortable doing so.
The board encourages residents to respect other residents wearing a mask or not. Businesses continuing to require customers wear masks have the board’s support.
If cases of covid-19 in Washington County exceed eight per day over a 14-day rolling average, the board may recommend all residents go back to wearing masks at indoor public spaces.
Council Member Matthew Petty he would support continuing to require masks in a health care setting, bus, jail or shelter, as the board of health recommended. Council Member Sonia Gutierrez asked exemptions be made for children.
Council Member Holly Hertzberg said she would be in favor of recommending, rather than requiring, residents wear masks.
“I’m just concerned if we’re not going to require any documentation — which I don’t think that we should do — I don’t know that we need an ordinance requiring something if we’re not able to enforce it,” she said.
The state’s emergency declaration related to the covid-19 pandemic is set to expire Sunday. The state’s mask mandate expired March 30, but some cities such as Fayetteville and Rogers kept their local mandates in place.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan said his administration will work on creating signs businesses can put on their doors emphasizing the importance of getting vaccinated.
Stacy Ryburn can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @stacyryburn.
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday Where: City Hall, 113 W. Mountain St.
Join online via Zoom by going to fayetteville-ar.gov and clicking on “Participate in public meetings.”
To watch the meeting live, go to youtube.com/cityoffayettevillear or tune into Channel 216 with Cox or Channel 99 on AT&T U-verse.