Macon-Bibb mask mandate sought as COVID-19 deaths double after last push

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Liz Fabian

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Health again is urging the county commission to pass a mask mandate now that Georgia's governor has set a threshold for allowing local laws.

On July 10 when the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health pushed for a mandatory mask policy, 41 people already had died of COVID-19 in the county. A little more than a month later, that number has more than doubled to 83 deaths.

Monday, the board unanimously approved sending another resolution urging the Board of Commissioners to mandate mask wearing.

“It helps us move the needle on compliance,” said health board member Chris Tsavatewa, who wasted no time after Gov. Brian Kemp’s latest executive order.

Tsavatewa sponsored an updated resolution just two days after Kemp announced he now will allow local governments to impose a “Local Option Face Covering Requirement” if they meet the threshold of 100 cases of coronavirus for 100,000 residents.

As of Monday, Bibb has 2669.08 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Tsavatewa’s motion was seconded by Macon-Bibb Commissioner Joe Allen, who last month couldn’t bring himself to sign off on disobeying Kemp’s order that previously prohibited local governments from strengthening or weakening his executive order.

“Since I was the holdout, I’ll second,” Allen said Monday concerning the latest resolution, which brought a resounding “Thank You” from board member Ethel Cullinan.

“It just seems like a no-brainer to me,” Cullinan said.

Last month, the health board’s first effort led to the county commission approving the mask mandate by a vote of 7-2, with Allen and Commissioner Scotty Shepherd voting against it. At least three other commissioners raised concerns about the mandate, although they agreed the public should wear them.

The next week, Mayor Robert Reichert vetoed the measure and commissioners failed to get the 6 votes necessary to override the veto.

“We are back where we started,” Tsavatewa told the board at the beginning of Monday’s August meeting. “It is our obligation as a board to move this forward.”

After unanimous consent to plead again for a local mask requirement, the resolution was still being drafted Monday afternoon.

The governor’s provision to allow local mask mandates does not cover people while eating or drinking, those who have a bona fide religious objection or have difficulty wearing and removing a face mask or those who have legitimate medical reasons for not wearing a mask.

There also are exemptions for polling locations during elections, private residences or businesses and organizations that choose not to enforce the requirement.

Local businesses cannot be fined or penalized if patrons are not in compliance.

Kemp’s order also calls for warning violators about the health risks of not wearing a face mask  before a citation is issued. If someone cannot afford a face covering, the municipality should furnish one at no expense, the governor stated.

Fines and fees should not exceed $50.

The Macon-Bibb County Commission meets Tuesday night, and Reichert is already planning to propose a mask ordinance in line with the governor’s latest order, according to county spokesman Chris Floore.

The Macon-Bibb Emergency Management Agency and county attorney were reviewing the executive order Monday afternoon, Floore said.

It is not yet clear whether anyone will try to add a mask mandate to Tuesday’s agenda or wait and offer it for consideration during next week’s committee meetings.

During the pre-commission meeting, Floore said Reichert will update commissioners on the latest order and express his desire to enact a mandate before discussing how best to proceed.

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