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Patton Township Supervisors Approve Ordinance to Enforce Masking, Limits on Gatherings

by on August 19, 2020 10:06 PM

Patton Township on Wednesday became the third Centre Region municipality to adopt a temporary ordinance for local enforcement of COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Township supervisors unanimously approved the ordinance which is modeled on one passed by State College Borough Council earlier this month — though with a few modifications.

Ferguson Township supervisors on Monday approved a short-term ordinance focused on enforcement of masking requirements. They will hold a public hearing and vote on extending it on Sept. 8. During its meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, College Township Council will hold a public hearing on and consider a proposed ordinance for local enforcement of the Pennsylvania Department of Health's masking mandate.

Patton Township's ordinance, like State College's, sets mandates for wearing masks in public places, limits the number of people permitted at gatherings at residences and in public parks and other municipal properties, and restricts waiting lines on public sidewalks outside of businesses.

Individuals or businesses found in violation can be subject to a civil citation and fine of $100. The State College ordinance includes a fine of $300.

 

"I think it’s incumbent on all of us in the community to care for one another’s health," Supervisor Anita Thies said. "I know there are different perspectives on that but I think the research is undeniable that wearing a mask is a primary, major way that we can protect others from this virus. Hopefully no one will have to pay a... fine because everyone will abide by the call to be the best neighbor they can be and wear a mask to protect others."

 

Gathering Limits

Residential gatherings are limited to 25 people, indoors or outdoors. Gatherings in township parks or other municipal property are limited to 50.

It does not apply to non-residential properties; schools; religious institutions; Centre Region Parks and Recreation programs or sanctioned activities; group uses already approved by CRPR; family events such as weddings, funerals and reunions; or constitutionally-protected activities in public spaces.

The original proposed ordinance mirrored State College's limits of 10 at residences and 25 on municipal property. That was among the concerns raised by township solicitor Betsy Dupuis, who noted the current Pennsylvania Department of Health orders cap indoor gatherings at 25 and outdoor gatherings at 250.

Because the proposal went beyond the commonwealth's requirements and the township does not have its own health department to cite, Dupuis said the provisions were more open to being challenged.

"That essentially means that somebody could challenge your authority to go beyond the prescriptions in the governor’s order and if somebody wanted to challenge that, not only could they challenge the issuance of the fines, they could argue you have affected their rights in another way and bring some other kind of claim," she said.

Township Manager Doug Erickson said District Attorney Bernie Cantorna "thinks we have an enforceable ordinance." But Dupuis said the district attorney's office could face the same challenge as the township.

Supervisors ultimately arrived at 25 at residences because it is the state mandate for indoor gatherings. For parks and other municipal property, the limit was raised to 50, reflecting the restriction put into place by Allegheny County after it experienced a significant spike in COVID-19 cases in June and July.

Dupuis said Allegheny County does have its own health department and using its limit provides stronger rationale.

"I think at a minimum being close to somewhere like Allegheny County and using their evidence of the fact that they had an outbreak, which was largely driven by social activities in downtown and other places... At least you can tie into that and say 'We looked at their order; we felt that made sense.' That’s a better argument than us saying we came up with 25."

Masking

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

Masks covering both the mouth and nose are required:

- Inside any building open to the public, including stores, other businesses, medical facilities and government buildings;

- On all public transportation and ride-share services;

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

- 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 order and township ordinance are those with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. Like State College's ordinance, an individual claiming the exception is required to provide within five days documentation from a medical professional verifying the condition exists (though not specifying what the condition is).

Dupuis said providing documentation exceeds the state requirement and is "fraught with potential issues."

"Anything we do in here that exceeds what the Department of Health has in place is a potential red flag," she said. "I don’t think we want to put our police in a position where they’ve got to ask people for medical documentation."

Other exemptions include:

- 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.

- Groups engaged in organized recreation or sports activities who are following a COVID-19 safety plan based on Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health guidance.

Supervisors added that last exception  after Centre Soccer Association President Matt Vidic said he was concerned the proposed ordinance could preclude the organization — which has a safety plan and requirements — from continuing to play. CSA rents fields from Centre Region Parks and Rec, so is exempt from the ordinance's gathering limitation.

Masks are not required in private vehicles and homes; private business locations or 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 involving 10 or fewer people; and when among family members or people of the same household.

Waiting Lines

Lines waiting to enter businesses that form on public sidewalks are limited to no more than 10 people who are at least 6 feet apart and wearing face coverings. 

Individuals waiting to enter a business cannot wait in front of another business or property.

Businesses are responsible for monitoring lines for compliance and notifying the Patton Township Police Department if anyone refuses to disperse, wear a face covering or maintain physical distancing.

 

 



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