Gadsden council members express enforcement concerns about proposed mask ordinance

Gadsden to vote on mask ordinance

GADSDEN, Ala. (WBRC) - After discussing the measure in a work session, the Gadsden City Council is expected to vote on a mandatory mask ordinance that would levy a $25 fine for everyone caught not wearing a mask in public in the city limits.

It’s an issue being considered by many cities in the fight against COVID-19. Cities and counties such as Jefferson County, Tuscaloosa and Decatur already have such measures in place.

However, council members expressed concern about whether such an ordinance can be enforced. Council member Jason Wilson argued the ordinance has so many exemptions, it leaves few people and few circumstances that could be policed.

"Everything's carved out of this. Let's be serious, this isn't about enforcement. This is a gesture," Wilson said.

Those exemptions include: children 5 and under, people eating or drinking, hair cuts, medical examinations, personal safety, people who need to be heard, people working on a ladder, wearing other respiratory protection, engaged in physical exertion, operating heavy equipment, if it hinders communication in their work environment, person is hearing impaired or needs to see someone's mouth, person speaking to large group of people, indoor athletic facilities and commercial gyms, and private clubs and gatherings. It also gives businesses the right to set their own rules for employees.

City attorney Lee Roberts said the ordinance was meant to apply to public areas accessible to the general public. He mentioned restaurants, until the diners are seated at a table, and mentioned law firm lobbies.

"All you have to say is 'I can't breathe' and you're basically exempt," said council member Ben Reed.

Council member Kent Back says he's confused about whether masks are effective. He says one doctor told him they're virtually useless while another one told him they should be worn as much as possible.

Many infectious disease experts now say they’re meant to keep the wearer from spreading the disease to other people, and work best when everyone wears them. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone aged two and older should wear them in public places, places where social distancing is difficult to maintain, and around people not part of their households.

Back suggested the ordinance be watered down to a resolution with no fine, and be changed from mandatory to the council "strongly suggesting" everyone wear a mask.

But council member Thomas Worthy, a retired police officer who says his first concern is public safety, says that would make it ineffective. He lamented how it became about identity politics.

"And if we both have our masks on while we're talking to each other, then your chances of catching COVID-19 go way down," Worthy said. "And all these young people think it can't happen to you, ask that 30 year old in Texas," Worthy added, alluding to the man who caught the coronavirus at a COVID-19 party then died from it, admitting on his deathbed he was wrong to think it was a hoax.

Roberts says the version that will be on the agenda for next week’s meeting will be the ordinance with the fine.

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