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Anniston council discusses potential ordinance requiring masks to be worn in public

In a work session on Tuesday, the Anniston City Council discussed the possibility of requiring masks to be worn in public.

The discussion comes as many municipalities around the state have enacted mandatory mask ordinances as the number of new COVID-19 cases in Alabama continues to rise. Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Mobile, Selma, Birmingham, Madison County and Jefferson County are among the areas in the state where wearing masks is mandatory.

Councilwoman Millie Harris, who proposed the discussion item, said the city needs to take “advanced measures.”

“We’re pretty much getting into a crisis situation right now,” Harris said. “Part of the problem is, initially, the CDC did not advocate for masks for healthy people and now they are. So, things have changed and created quite confusion with the public.”

Harris invited Dr. George Crawford, a physician at the Regional Medical Center, to speak before the council to the effectiveness of masks in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

“The science behind masks is pretty simple,” Crawford said. “If you are spraying anything and you put a barrier between it — the spraying substance and the person receiving the spray — it decreases the risk of whatever that is, whether it’s the virus, whether it’s bacteria.”

Crawford explained that COVID-19 is different from other diseases in that it has a two-week incubation period when an infected person is asymptomatic.

“The other difference is it’s a new virus,” he said. “If you take a look at AIDS, HIV, it took us four years to get from when we first figured it out to having good treatment. We’ve dealt with viruses, but we’ve never dealt with anything like this.”

Crawford expressed support for requiring masks outside in the public, calling it a “responsible and reasonable way to help get this under control.” He also said that the United States is responsible for one-fourth of COVID-19 infections in the entire world.

“With regard to the mask, think of it as, right now, with COVID, that’s the only thing we have is prevention,” he said.

Councilman Jay Jenkins expressed support for a mask ordinance, citing a sharp rise in cases in the state. He said that Dr. Raul Magadia, an infectious disease expert in Anniston, and Dr. Jeff Ryan, the director of JSU’s emergency management program, urged the council to move forward with a mask ordinance.

“The one thing that I can certainly tell you is putting on a mask is not gonna hurt,” Jenkins said. “It’s certainly not gonna make the situation worse. It only stands to make the situation better.”

Jenkins applauded the work of Calhoun County in the battle against the virus and said that the county remains the third lowest county per capita of positive test results.

“What you’re seeing, and I see it everywhere I go, people are tired of social distancing,” he said. “People are tired of the isolation. Everybody’s got a breaking point and you’re starting to see that. It’s happening everywhere. These are all good compelling reasons to take some form of action.”

Councilman David Reddick similarly cited rising cases in the United States in defense of a mandatory mask ordinance.

“It’s spiking,” Reddick said. “Sometimes we do stuff people don’t like, but never has there been an opportunity to do things for people they may not like that’ll save their life the way we can right now.”

Councilman Ben Little was the only member of the council who expressed opposition to a mandatory mask ordinance, stating that the council does not have the constitutional authority to require masks be worn in public.

“I have a real big problem with government intervening and trying to be the mother and father of people,” Little said.

Little said that he is fine with businesses requiring masks as opposed to city governments mandating them.

“Do we have an ordinance against shooting fireworks in the city of Anniston?” Little rhetorically asked. “I think we do. You wanna know how that’s going and how that went?”

Little also said that there aren’t enough officers in the city to enforce current ordinances, and that passing a mask ordinance would add “layers” to that.

“Recommending that people wear masks, I’m fine with,” he said.

Mayor Jack Draper expressed concern with the effectiveness of a mask ordinance if Anniston were the only city in the region to do so.

“It’s my understanding that the attorney general has weighed in on some of these municipal ordinances and orders of county health officers,” Draper said.

Draper cautioned the council that the ordinance needs to be “well-tailored” and that he needs to investigate the attorney general’s comments.

“We will quickly vet these constitutional enforcement issues beginning tomorrow,” he said.

In other business, the council:

— Passed a resolution strongly encouraging residents to wear a mask in public spaces. The resolution was made pending a vote on a mask ordinance.

— Approved a resolution overruling objections to the abatement of 1617 Cobb Ave.

— Appointed Megan Brightwell as a member of the Anniston Museum of Natural History.

— Appointed Jimmy Jackson to the Longleaf Botanical Garden Board.

— Approved a motion installing speed humps on Fifth Street.

— Awarded a bid to Yamaha Golf Car Company to lease 59 gas golf carts in the amount of $4,304.05 per month and four gas maintenance utility vehicles in the amount of $557.96 per month.

— Awarded a bid to Triple J Construction to construct a new sidewalk along Crane Avenue from West 13th Street to the bus stop at Wesley Park in the amount of $64,510 contingent upon successful submission of required bonds and insurance.

— Named Draper as the voting delegate and Little as the first alternative voting delegate for the Alabama League of Municipalities Annual Business Session on July 23.

— Approved an ordinance allowing for the operation of sidewalk cafés and separately adopted a sidewalk café manual. A sidewalk café, as defined by the ordinance, is a portion of a sidewalk used to set up tables, chairs and furnishings for use by a business to serve customers outdoors.

— Authorized a grant application under the FY 2021 Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program.

— Authorized a special economic development agreement between the city and D&K James LLC.