Masks now required at Middle Georgia libraries to protect COVID-19 ‘wellness bubble’


Liz Fabian

The Middle Georgia Regional Library system is now requiring masks for branch visitors in Bibb, Jones, Baldwin, Macon, Twiggs, Wilkinson and Crawford counties.

The “masks required” signs are going back up at Washington Memorial Library after they recently were taken down when Macon-Bibb County’s mayor vetoed the county commission’s mandate.

Middle Georgia Regional Library director Jennifer Lautzenheiser raised concerns about the safety of the staff during Tuesday night’s board meeting.

Once the mask mandate signs came down, people not only were not wearing masks, but also were relaxing social distancing standards to keep 6 feet away from others, especially staff.

“They have as patrons (socially distanced), but they have not with our staff. They come into contact with multiple people throughout the day,” Lautzenheiser told the board.

The library workers maintain a safe zone they call a “wellness bubble” in their branches by taking body temperatures, wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from others.

Those protections could be in vain if an infected library visitor came close enough to spread the virus.

“It’s in our interest to try to maintain our wellness bubble,” Lautzenheiser said. “It’s also our interest to keep our facilities open.”

Masks already were mandated for workers but the regional board voted Tuesday night to require masks for visitors at all public libraries in the six counties including Twiggs, Macon, Jones, Crawford and Wilkinson.

“We are the library and we need to be the source of enlightenment and science,” one board member shared on the teleconference. “I think we need to wear a mask to respect one another.”

Board member Jodi Palmer added: “I think now it’s to the point where it’s a really bad idea to not wear a mask and not protect your employees. I feel like (COVID-19) is something that’s not going to be over in a month or two.”

Mask mandate

Masks or appropriate PPE (personal protection equipment) that covers the nose and mouth must be worn at all times in the library when someone is in close proximity with people who do not live in the same household.

Exceptions include children under 10 years old and those who have a health condition that could be adversely affected by wearing a face covering.

The requirement will help keep library populations safe and enable them to be satellites of cyber learning for school students with limited internet access, Lautzenheiser said.

Libraries present a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic as their patrons often linger for hours and touch a variety of surfaces, including computer keyboards.

Local staff is guided by research conducted with the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio to disinfect spaces and material.

Battelle, a private research firm in central Ohio, concluded that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is not detectable on five common library materials after three days.

After just one day, the virus was not detected on covers of DVDs and hardback and softback books.

Libraries in Macon-Bibb County have been using that research to quarantine materials, limit computer use and escalate cleaning.

Computer use is restricted to two hours and seating is limited to create enough distance between patrons.

Access to the Middle Georgia Archives and Genealogical and Historical Room is by appointment only at Washington Memorial Library.

Curbside pickup is available by appointment only for materials reserved through the website.

Curbside pickup also is available for items on hold through the website. Make sure there is a valid phone number associated with your account and a staff member will call to arrange a pickup time.

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 and [email protected].