By Tia Lynn Ivey
Nationally, masks have become the latest symbol in the ongoing culture wars, but in Madison, the Mayor and City Council are determined to lead the public by example in wearing masks as a public safety measure in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We want to be the model for our city,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman at Monday night’s regular meeting, the first meeting open to the public in months due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Madison Mayor and City Council unanimously adopted a mandatory mask policy for all city employees. Practicing what they preach, Monday night’s meeting featured socially distanced seating for council members and the public, the council along with city staff donned masks and provided masks and hand sanitizer for members of the public attending.
“What good are we if we don’t protect each other?” asked Perriman.
The mayor also issued a public announcement urging citizens to wear masks in all public settings, despite not being able to mandate the mask policy citywide.
“Our hands are tied on that,” said Perriman.
Councilwoman Chris Hodges explained that the city could not go above Gov Brian Kemp’s statewide regulations, mandates, and standards concerning safety measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The governor said we cannot go beyond the state requirements. We can’t do anything stronger than what the governor has done,” said Hodges, who suggested the council find a way to incentivize local businesses to establish mandatory masks policies for their staff and customers.
“If there’s something we can do to incentivize this… maybe we can put on our thinking caps to find ways to reward businesses that take the lead on this.”
“I would support anything that encourages the public to wear masks,” said Councilman Eric Joyce, who attributed Madison’s relatively low infection rate to strong measures enacted by the city and local businesses during the early days of the pandemic.
The council adopted the the same mask-wearing policy put out by the Georgia Municipality Association (GMA). According to the GMA, “Many City employees and many members of the public who visit City Hall and other City buildings may be members of Vulnerable Populations. Some City employees and many members of the public who visit City Hall and other City properties are members of the following ‘Other Populations at Risk’ identified by the CDC: pregnant women, individuals experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities.
The Mayor and Council desire to protect individuals in said Vulnerable Populations and Other Populations at Risk, in a reasonable manner and as recommended by the CDC and by the Georgia Department of Public Health, while such individuals are working in, conducting business in, or visiting City Hall and other City buildings.”
The policy explains guidance from state leaders on the issue of mask wearing.
“Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia’s Commissioner of Public Health, and Gov Kemp through Executive Order recommend that individuals wear face coverings over the nose and mouth to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 when they are in public places where they cannot practice social distancing (i.e., stay at least six feet away from other individuals who do not share the same household); and the CDC states that wearing a face covering over the nose and mouth is a recommended precaution designed to prevent symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals who have contracted COVID-19 from spreading it to other individuals,” explains the GMA policy. “To be an effective precaution, it is necessary to require all City employees and members of the public to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth while in public areas in the City building and while meeting in the City building.
Dr. Toomey and Gov Kemp have modeled the behavior of wearing face coverings as examples for Georgians to follow.”
The GMA document argues that masks wearing enables the economy to reopen to a greater extent while protecting public safety.
“Having City Hall and other City offices open and accessible to the public as necessary to conduct in-person business that cannot be conducted by other means is important for the economic vitality of the City. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. In light of new data about how COVID-19 spreads, along with evidence of widespread COVID-19 illness in communities across the country, CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in the community setting. This is to protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms.
A cloth face covering should be worn whenever people are in a community setting, especially in situations where you may be near people.
These settings include grocery stores and pharmacies. These face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing. Cloth face coverings are especially important to wear in public in areas of widespread COVID-19 illness. Yes. Wearing cloth face coverings is an additional public health measure people should take to reduce the spread of COVID-19. CDC still recommends that you stay at least six feet away from other people (social distancing), frequent hand cleaning and other everyday preventive actions. A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but it may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others.This would be especially important if someone is infected but does not have symptoms.”
Perriman implored the public to follow the city’s example.
“We are asking the public coming into city hall to wear masks and we also encourage the public to wear masks while grocery shopping or going into department stores, any where in public,” said Perriman. “I don’t think people realize how serious this coronavirus is. It’s rough stuff. We have to learn to protect each other.”