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Centre County Municipalities Look to Adopt Masking Ordinances

by on August 18, 2020 4:18 PM

Ferguson Township on Monday night became the first local municipality to follow State College's footsteps and adopt its own local ordinance for enforcement of COVID-19 mitigation measures.

It likely won't be the last. 

College Township, Patton Township and Bellefonte Borough also will consider ordinances to enforce mandatory masking in public places, with citations and fines when needed.

While each is modeled on State College's ordinance — which sets mandates for masking, limits gathering sizes in residences and borough parks and restricts lines of people waiting outside businesses — not all the same provisions are included.

Ferguson Township's Board of Supervisors approved two actions on Monday night. The first enacted an emergency temporary ordinance, effective immediately to require face coverings, with some exceptions, in public places. It expires on Sept. 9.

Supervisors also approved advertising a slightly modified version of the same ordinance and scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 8, at which point they will vote on approving the measure to be in effect until Jan. 31, 2021 or until the state and Centre Region COG emergency declarations are rescinded, whichever is earlier.

Section 2.25 of Ferguson Township's charter allowed supervisors to adopt a temporary ordinance addressing a public health emergency at the same meeting it is introduced without prior advertisement, provided it is published within 10 days.

Individuals found in violation of the ordinance are subject to a citation and $100 fine, while businesses face a $300 fine. By comparison, State College's ordinance levies a fine of $300 for any person or business found in violation.

Ferguson Township Police and code enforcement will be tasked with enforcing the ordinance, which as with the borough, will first focus on education and warnings.

"It’s important to note it will be the intention of the police department and code enforcement officer to educate and encourage compliance with the restrictions and protocol as opposed to being heavy handed with fines and citations," Township Manager David Pribulka said. "We want to reserve the ability to do so should the need arise."

The ordinance's masking provisions largely reflect those in the Department of Health's statewide mandate.

Face coverings are required

- Inside any business, medical facility and government building;

- On all public transportation and ride-share services;

- While waiting to enter any building open to the public or waiting to board public transportation; 

- While working in any job that entails coming into contact with any member of the public unless separated by a physical barrier; and

- When in contact with anyone who is not from the same household or family, "whether indoors or outdoors, including, but not limited to contact during gatherings, curbside pickup, drive-thru and food truck purchases, deliveries, and service calls."

Parents are responsible for minor children wearing a mask, except those children under the age of 2, who are exempt from the state order.

Also exempt in the state and township order are those with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. Unlike the State College ordinance, Ferguson Township's does not require someone invoking such a condition to provide verification from a medical professional.

Other exemptions include:

- Persons whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering.

- Persons who are hearing impaired, or who are communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.

- Those for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk related to their work, as determined by local, state or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

- Persons who are obtaining a service or treatment involving the nose or face or a medical procedure for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service.

- Persons who are seated at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, and all requirements as established by the Pennsylvania Department of Health are followed.

Locations where wearing a mask may be advisable but is not required include: in private vehicles or homes, inside private business locations or in private offices when members of the public, clients or guests are not present and 6 feet of distance can be maintained; while participating in recreational fitness activities and when among family members or people of the same household.

While the State College ordinance restricts residential gatherings to 10 people and gatherings at borough parks and municipal property to 25, the Ferguson Township ordinance does not place additional restrictions on gatherings beyond current Department of Health orders. The updated ordinance to be voted on in September, however, will note that the township has the power to enforce the state order, which currently caps indoor gatherings at 25 and outdoor gatherings at 250.

"We still have the ability as a local jurisdiction to enforce Department of Health standards," Pribulka said. "So we can still proceed with enforcement measures if there are gatherings in excess of the limitations prescribed by the governor’s office and the PA Department of Health."

Ferguson Township's ordinance also does not have restrictions on waiting lines in the public right of way. The borough ordinance limits lines of people waiting on a sidewalk to enter a business to 10 people spaced 6 feet apart.

"It’s not really an issue we face anywhere in Ferguson Township," Pribulka said. "They certainly contend with that in downtown State College Borough."

Patton Township

Patton Township's proposed ordinance, which will have a public hearing during the Board of Supervisors meeting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, includes essentially the same masking provisions as the Ferguson Township ordinance. Supervisors will consider whether the religious exception will remain, since State College has amended its ordinance to remove it, as well as whether the township ordinance would require documentation from a medical professional for someone claiming a condition prevents them from wearing a mask.

The proposed ordinance also includes the restriction on waiting lines, but notes that it may be removed because lines on public sidewalks outside of businesses are not likely to occur within Patton Township.

The gathering restrictions are included in the proposed ordinance as well, with the option of including a gathering registration application for up to 25 people at residential properties. A similar provision was included in State College's amended ordinance.

Like the borough, Patton Township's ordinance states that the gathering limitations only apply to residential properties, township parks and other municipal property. They do not apply to non-residential properties, private businesses, schools, religious institutions or Centre Region Parks and Recreation programming.

Also like State College, fines for violations would be $300, though supervisors may choose to decrease that before adopting the ordinance.

The ordinance would be in effect until Jan. 31, 2021 or until the emergency declarations are rescinded.

College Township

College Township is taking a somewhat different tack for its proposed ordinance, which will have a public hearing during council's meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

"All persons in College Township shall be required to wear a Face Covering in conjunction with current guidance and/or orders issued by either the Pennsylvania Governor or the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Health," the proposed ordinance states.

Anyone found in violation could receive a citation and fine of no less than $150 and no more than $300.

"It is the intent of this ordinance to empower authorized enforcement personnel to enforce the Pennsylvania Governor’s and/or Secretary of the Department of Health directives and orders related to declared State-wide emergencies resulting from health or natural disaster events," it states.

Council members agreed at a special meeting last week that they would consider in September if a more expansive ordinance is necessary.

Elsewhere in the Centre Region, Halfmoon Township and Harris Township are not currently considering masking or social distancing ordinances. At recent meetings, supervisors in both townships said they believed the current state guidelines were sufficient for their municipalities. 

Harris Township supervisors said, however, they did have some concern about Airbnbs being used to host large gatherings and planned to distribute information to residents about the current state orders.

Bellefonte

At a meeting on Monday night, Bellefonte Borough Council voted to develop and advertise an ordinance for a public hearing on Sept. 7.

Council President Joanne Tosti-Vasey said she expects the ordinance will be modeled on those in State College and Patton Township but customized for Bellefonte. For example, she said she believes the limit of 25 people on outdoor gatherings at public parks and municipal property  is too restrictive for Bellefonte.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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