Columbus mayor: City considers making face coverings mandatory in public places

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Public health officials tell us one way to slow the spread of the virus is to wear a face covering.

Columbus mayor Skip Henderson is considering an order to require people in Muscogee County to wear face coverings.

“Anything and everything is on the table right now, if it can help keep our community safe,” Henderson told News 3 on Wednesday

Henderson has been monitoring the local COVID-19 numbers and what he sees is a rolling seven day average around 86. On Wednesday, there were 138 new cases in Columbus. That is the most since the record of 143 on June 30. There have been 2,344 Muscogee County residents test positive for the virus. There have been 103,890 cases in Georgia.

One of the things that is on the table locally is requiring people to wear masks in public places.

“Right now we are taking a look at what other communities are doing,” Henderson said. “Right now there are three or four cities that have enacted it. I think Savannah was first. Athens came online. East Point is going on and I think Atlanta is planning on an executive order today.”

One 64-year-old Columbus resident thinks it would be a smart move by the mayor.

“I don’t have a problem with it at all,” said David Lennon. “Because of the spike in Georgia, it might be beneficial with all of us for a little while.”

One of the obstacles is that a local order to wear masks would be in direct conflict with the state emergency order by Gov. Brian Kemp. That issue has given Henderson pause on pulling the trigger here.

While on a visit to Columbus last week urging people to wear masks, Kemp said he was not considering making it a law.

“What I would rather see the governor do is provide some wiggle room for the municipalities and county governments and allow them the opportunity make that particular requirement a little more stringent than what his order is,” Henderson said.

The legality of making masks mandatory is one of the things that concerns Henderson. And he has an example of what could happen.

“The challenge right now we’ve got is making sure that the enforcement of this is actually legal,” he said. “For example if somebody comes to court and we’ve tied up court time we have utilized our public-safety man hours to hold people accountable if they are not complying. Then they get to court and an attorney argues that the governor’s order supersedes ours, therefore we can’t cite them. Yeah, it’s a problem.”

But one thing the city can do quickly is make masks mandatory in public building like the Government Center.

“We think we ought to set the example for our businesses around town. If we are to ask them to restrict access to their facilities unless people are wearing face coverings, then we need to lead the way.”

Any order that would require people in Muscogee County to wear masks would have to be approved by the Columbus council.

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