Bowling Green Council on Tuesday unanimously approved legislation requiring face coverings in certain public spaces.

Council altered the date the ordinance will remain in effect to Oct. 31, but plans to reevaluate the situation before that date.

“I feel like we have heard what the people have to say,” said Councilman John Zanfardino prior to the vote, “and I think it’s pretty overwhelmingly clear that the people of Bowling Green would like to see us make this step.”

Early in the meeting, council heard both oral remarks and submitted written statements from residents. This was in addition to hundreds of communications council members reported receiving recently on the matter.

Among those in favor of the ordinance was Ann-Marie Lancaster, who wrote “The coronavirus is having a devastating impact on the world, including the United States. … It is important to acknowledge that no one likes wearing a mask. It is inconvenient and uncomfortable especially in hot weather, but I disagree with the notion that wearing a mask is a personal choice.

“These restrictions or requirements exist to assist the common good,” she said.

Lancaster further wrote that the issue of mask-wearing “is a public health issue and not a political issue.”

“These are difficult times,” said Vassiliki Leontis, “these are not normal times. So wearing a mask is actually pretty visible on a small scale, without having to sacrifice much in order to achieve a grand scale goal by stopping the spread of the virus and preserve society. … By doing our small part, wearing masks in public, we can really protect not only ourselves and our families, but our health care workers who we hail as heroes.”

Resident Rhonda Garvey, in a written statement, questioned whether the infection and death statistics Wood County justified the ordinance.

Jessica Carpenter also addressed a series of statistics, including saying that among Wood County residents the chances of testing positive for COVID-19 are 0.3%, and the chances of dying are 0.03%, or a 99.97% survival rate. She said the figures for the number of cases in Bowling Green aren’t available and asked council how they could mandate masks without such data. She expressed “concerns for my individual liberties, which I hold very dearly.”

“We are not children, we are educated, intelligent, very capable adults” who can make their own decisions, Carpenter said.

She added later that if the ordinance were passed, “I will not comply… My family will not take part in your social experiment.”

The ordinance was introduced and then given its second and third readings by council, and Clerk of Council Kay Scherreik read the main body of the ordinance aloud at the request of Councilman Neocles Leontis.

Council President Mark Hollenbaugh noted the large amount of public comment he’d received on the issue.

“I know I’ve received phone calls and emails, text messages and other means of communication. These came from young and old, these came from students, they came from business owners, they came from employees of businesses.”

He said one communication came from a woman with a wedding planned for November, asking how the mask ordinance might affect her wedding day.

“Legislation is difficult,” Hollenbaugh said. “To get something right requires transparency, it requires citizen input, it requires thoughtful consideration. Anyone that has been familiar with various efforts to produce ordinances through BG’s history knows that sometimes it takes months and months. I can assure you we completed this dutifully and at as rapid a pace as possible.”

“We’ve had to balance individual liberties, which is a very legitimate concern, with community safety,” Councilman Bill Herald said. “Those in favor and those opposed to this legislation have valid points that should be respected and balanced.”

Leontis said that the ordinance is an emergency.

“We are seeing cases increase rapidly in Wood County and in Bowling Green” he said.

Leontis added that he wants to be proactive so that hospitals are not overrun as has happened in other communities in the United States. He also spoke to some points brought up by Carpenter, and said he’d addressed and written about those issues previously and the information had been shared with council.

“We’re not proceeding blindly,” Leontis said.

Councilman Greg Robinette said that far too many of the comments he received, whether for or against the ordinance, “were full of vitriol or anger,” and that “civility left the building.”

He said he supported the ordinance.

“I want Bowling Green not to just survive this pandemic, but to thrive,” Robinette said.

Councilwoman Rachel Phipps said she’s had to remind herself often that this is a moment in time.

“We will not be wearing masks forever. This is not forever. We will absolutely get through this,” she said.

The ordinance is a tool while other treatments and a vaccine are being developed, Phipps said.

“More people wearing masks means hopefully this fall and this winter look a little bit closer to normal,” she said.

One outstanding issue was the length the ordinance would be in effect in the legislation, brought up by Herald. As originally written, the ordinance would be in effect until Dec. 31.

“It’s quite obvious that none of us know what next month is going look like, what next January is going to look like, or what next July is going to look like,” Hollenbaugh said.

“This is going to be in effect as long as it is needed and not longer,” he said later.

Councilwoman Sandy Rowland suggested that the date stand as written.

“If things get better we can also hold a meeting and simply lift the ordinance and let people go about their normal life without having to wear a mask out of fear of COVID,” she said.

Robinette said it’s important to recognize “the great concern of many in Bowling Green that this is not a permanent measure.” He suggested the date be moved to Oct. 31.

Leontis opposed the move, saying it would fall in the middle of the Bowling Green State University’s fall semester.

“I’m afraid it’s going to send the wrong message to our students,” he said.

“I support this only because it sends a positive message of the temporary status of this,” Robinette said, adding that council could vote to extend the ordinance.

Phipps spoke in favor of the earlier date, while Zanfardino said he felt Oct. 31 was too soon.

The change of date passed 4-3, with Leontis, Rowland and Zanfardino voting no. It was noted that the change was made with the understanding that council, at the second meeting in October, will evaluate the decision.

Council then voted to pass the amended ordinance unanimously. The ordinance was passed as an emergency measure, meaning it goes into effect immediately and not following a 30-day period as with most legislation.

The ordinance states that “the reason for the emergency is the prompt effectiveness of this measure is necessary so as to diminish the spread of COVID-19 in the Bowling Green community, and to protect especially vulnerable citizens from the effect of COVID-19, and thereby protect the public health, safety, and well-bring of our citizens.”

The language of the ordinance states in part that people shall wear a face covering over their nose, mouth and chin when entering, exiting or waiting in line at a place of business or government building or facility, or while waiting in line at such places, or in any public transportation vehicle, such as a bus, taxi or ride sharing vehicles or at a transit stop, or while waiting for public transit. They shall also have their face covered in any outdoor space where or when a physical separation of at least six feet can’t be maintained from others who are not members of their own household. Religious facilities are excluded.

Exceptions to the ordinance include any person who cannot wear a face covering because of a medical condition, mental health condition, special needs or a developmental disability, or who is unable to remove the face covering without assistance, and anyone who should not wear a face covering under CDC guidance. Also exempted are children under 6 years old, and restaurant or bar patrons while eating or drinking, while they are seated. Further exempted are those walking or exercising outdoors or in a gym as long as six feet of separation is maintained. In a gym setting, a face covering must be worn when not exercising. Further exempted are people working in their work office, conference room or workspace not intended for public use as long as social distancing is maintained; those inside a personal or commercial vehicle; and people acting in their capacity as a public safety employee or emergency responder “when wearing a face covering would interfere with or limit their ability” to carry out their duties, and people complying with the directions of public safety employees or emergency responders..

Regarding schools, the ordinance allows schools and school districts to follow the regulations and guidelines from their governing bodies and the Ohio Department of Education. Masks also would not be required in settings such as during dental or medical treatment.

Violators will be subject to a civil penalty of $50 per offense.

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