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State College Borough Council to Consider Ordinance to Enforce Masking, Limits on Gatherings

by on August 03, 2020 5:48 PM

State College Borough Council on Tuesday will consider a temporary ordinance that would set local parameters for mandatory masking and restrictions on gatherings and waiting lines, as well as authorize borough authorities to issue citations to those who refuse to comply.

The ordinance addressing three COVID-19 mitigation measures reflects, to a large degree, parts of existing state orders for masking and business and building safety, which the Wolf administration said state and local law enforcement have the ability to enforce. But it also would establish some specific local rules.

As one of only two home-rule municipalities in Centre County, State College has the ability to do anything not specifically denied by the state laws or regulations. At a meeting in July, council members said they believed an ordinance with local enforcement measures is needed as the region prepares for the return of tens of thousands of Penn State students in the coming weeks.

As with the state masking order, face coverings would be required, with some exceptions, anywhere in the borough where social distancing of at least 6 feet is not possible. Perhaps most notably, the proposed ordinance would require anyone who claims a medical or mental health condition or disability prevents them from wearing a mask to produce documentation from a medical professional verifying the condition within five days.

The draft ordinance as written would restrict gatherings at apartments to no more than five people from different households and all other housing types at 10 people. Where the household is greater than 10 people, no more would be permitted to gather.

In reviewing the ordinance on Friday, however, the borough Board of Health recommended limiting gatherings to 25 people in all housing types. Limits on gatherings would apply both indoors and outdoors on the property.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health's current health and safety orders restrict indoor gatherings to 25 people, with exceptions such as educational institutions and places of worship.

The third part of the ordinance as drafted would restrict lines forming on sidewalks outside of businesses to no more than 10 people spaced 6 feet apart and for no more than 15 minutes. The Board of Health recommended lines be limited to six people, 6 feet apart and for no more than 15 minutes.

As drafted, the ordinance would authorize "law enforcement and other public safety, health officers, ordinance enforcement officers, and emergency management personnel," to issue civil citations carrying fines of $300 for individuals, the owner or tenant of a residential property where the offense occurred, and businesses not requiring compliance by employees.

The Board of Health recommended a warning on first offense and a citation with a $100 fine on subsequent violations for individuals. Businesses would be subject to a warning first, then a $300 fine for subsequent violations.

The ordinance would be in effect until Jan. 31, 2021 or until the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Centre Region Council of Governments rescind their emergency declarations, whichever is earlier.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Liquor Control Board, state police and its Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement each also have enforcement powers for the various business and building COVID-19 safety orders issued by the Wolf administration.

Here's a closer look at the details of each part of the ordinance and the Board of Health recommendations.

Masking

For mask-wearing, the proposed ordinance largely mirrors the state's mandatory masking order.

Face coverings would be required:

- In any building open to the public

- On all transit vehicles, including CATA services (which already have mask requirements), rideshare services like Uber and Lyft and shuttles

- "When coming into contact with any person who is not that person’s family or household member, whether indoors or outdoors, including, but not limited to contact during gatherings, curbside pickup, drive-thru and food truck purchases, deliveries, and service calls"

- While waiting to enter any building open to the public, any municipal or other governmental building, or waiting to board any transport or transit vehicle

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

Parents and guardians would be responsible for minor children wearing face coverings, except for children under 2 years of age or those with a medical or mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing of a mask.

Location exemptions where face coverings are recommended but not required, according to the draft ordinance:

- In private business locations, or in individual private offices, at times when members of the public, clients, customers, guests, or other invitees are not present, as long as there is a distance of at least 6 feet maintained.

- While participating in recreational physical activities, whether outdoors or indoors.

- While with family members or members of the same household.

Individuals who would be exempt from the masking requirement include:

- Those with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering, if they provide documentation from a licensed medical professional immediately or within five days.

- 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.

Limitations on Gathering Sizes

The draft ordinance would restrict gatherings of people not from the same household to five in multi-family housing types (primarily, apartments) and 10 in all other housing types. When the number of people in a household exceeds 10, no more people would be permitted to gather.

The Board of Health recommended setting a limit of 25 people for gatherings in housing types. 

Restrictions would apply both indoors and outdoors on the property.

Additionally gatherings at borough public parks or other municipal property would be restricted to 25 people.

Gatherings at all other private commercial property of more than 25 people would be prohibited. 

Waiting Lines

As written, the ordinance would restrict waiting lines on sidewalks outside of businesses to no more than 10 people at least 6 feet apart and wearing face coverings. Individuals could be in line for no more than 15 minutes.

The Board of Health recommended limiting lines to six people for no more than 15 minutes.

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

Businesses would be responsible for monitoring lines to assure regulations are being followed. If someone does not respond to requests to disperse, wear a mask or social distance while in line, the business would be required to notify the State College Police Department.

Enforcement

"Law enforcement and other public safety, health officers, ordinance enforcement officers, and emergency management personnel charged with the enforcement of this ordinance," the draft states.

Individuals in violation of any part of the ordinance would be issued a citation for a civil infraction, punishable by a $300 fine. The owner, in the case of an owner-occupied property, or the the tenants, in the case of a rental property, would also be subject to a citation and a $300 fine. Businesses found not requiring their employees to comply with the ordinance would receive a citation and fine of $300, with each day the violation continues considered a separate offense.

The board of health recommended that in each instance, a first offense would receive a warning. For subsequent violations, individuals as well as property owners or renters where they occur, would receive a $100 fine. For subsequent business violations, the fine would be $300.

State College Borough Council will meet virtually at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The meeting can be viewed on Zoom and on C-NET (cable channel 7).



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