The city of Upper Arlington has joined the growing number of Ohio municipalities that now require people to wear facial coverings when inside businesses or public spaces.
Council unanimously approved an ordinance July 6 that took effect immediately to require people to wear facial coverings at all times in indoor areas of commercial buildings, as well as when inside buildings and other indoor spaces that are open to the public.
The move was in response to ongoing concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and followed similar action by city leaders in Dayton, Cincinnati and several other central Ohio communities, including Bexley, Columbus, Dublin, Hilliard, Westerville, Whitehall and Worthington. Reynoldsburg also is considering such a measure.
It also came ahead of news that the Franklin County commissioners would consider a countywide measure during a July 8 meeting.
Upper Arlington’s emergency measure was approved during a special meeting after being brought forward by council vice president Brendan King and council members Michaela Burriss and Michele Hoyle. The requirement will stay in place until lifted by council.
Burriss said she had been contacted by about 150 residents regarding the issue prior to the July 6 vote.
“It’s very clear, based on my limited time on council, that this is extremely important to our residents,” she said. “The overwhelming feedback on those contacts were urging our council to support this action.”
Council met remotely and held the special meeting via videoconference, but members of the public were permitted to sign up to speak about the proposal prior to the vote.
Eleven people did so, including Franklin County Public Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola and five other individuals who identified themselves as health-care professionals.
Of the 11 speakers, only Upper Arlington resident Cathy Pulz spoke against the ordinance.
She questioned council’s constitutional authority to tell residents and those visiting Upper Arlington what to wear while patronizing a private business.
“The Constitution does not guarantee anyone the right not to get sick,” Pulz said. “You can inform citizens about the risks involved with this virus, but you don’t have the right to tell me what to wear.”
Pulz said scientists and doctors could be found to support any opinion.
“Once government takes control, they don’t like to give it back,” she said. “You don’t need to trample anyone’s rights to keep us safe.
“This is America. The last time I checked we were supposed to be free from the tyranny of a government to control all parts of our lives.”
Despite Pulz’s objections, the 10 other speakers welcomed the legislation.
Mazzola said Franklin County leads the state in terms of the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
As of 11 a.m. July 6, Franklin County Public Health was reporting 2,596 total cases in the county, 271 hospitalizations and 103 deaths.
“We are certainly concerned about the number of cases we continue to see in Franklin County,” Mazzola said. “This ordinance is very consistent with the public health measures that we would recommend.”
Upper Arlington’s police force would have authority to monitor and enforce the facial-covering requirements.
Anyone who violates the measure will be given a warning on the first offense. Any violators who already have received a warning will be charged with a minor misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $150 fine.
There are, however, a number of exemptions to the new law, including:
· Anyone younger than 5 years old.
· Any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents him or her from wearing a facial covering.
· Any person who is hearing-impaired and uses facial and mouth movements as a means of communication or is seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired in a way that requires the mouth to be visible.
· Any person who is consuming food or drink.
· Any person who is exercising.
· Any person obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of a facial covering for security surveillance, screening or a need for specific access to the face, such as while visiting a bank or obtaining a personal-care service involving the face or head.
· Any person who actively is providing or obtaining access to religious worship.
· Any person whose religious beliefs prevent him or her from wearing a facial covering.
· Any person who is present in a school building or facility that is subject to a comparable facial-covering requirement.
· Any person giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience.
· Any person for whom facial coverings are prohibited by law or regulation or are inconsistent with industry standards while the person is on duty.
· Any person who is complying with directions of law-enforcement officers.
· Any person who is alone in a private, individual office.
· Any person who is present in a public library building or facility that is subject to a comparable facial-covering requirement.
In supporting the new requirement, Upper Arlington resident Ed Sweeney said places of worship should not be excluded.
“People in houses of worship can infect each other and then go out and spread the virus to the rest of us in the community,” he said. “How can you justify excluding places of worship from legislation intended to protect our community?”
City attorney Jeanine Hummer said the city is trying to “take the first step to require facial coverings or masks in individual commercial facilities, as well as the city of Upper Arlington’s buildings and public spaces.”
“We did not go so far as to include schools, public libraries and places of worship,” she said. “Schools and public libraries do have their own regulations and are really working through that.”
Hummer said most of the facial-covering legislation she has reviewed from other municipalities has not addressed places of worship.