Jacksonville may soon have to adhere to a mask ordinance if cases of COVID-19 continue surging in the area.
The Jacksonville City Council heard a first reading of an ordinance which if approved, would allow Mayor Andy Ezard to require masks to be worn in public spaces within the city.
Ward 5 Alderman Steve Warmowski says the measure is modeled after both the recently enacted Springfield ordinance and an existing Jacksonville City ordinance that giving the mayor the ability to enact mask restrictions by executive order.
“It’s kind of modeled on Jacksonville already has a drought ordinance where the Mayor can declare a drought emergency, and then you can’t do certain things that would waste water. It’s kind of like the same model for this where if public health conditions are such that we need to where mask the Mayor can trip this ordinance so it’s activated.
The reason I did it that way was because the requirements to wear masks changes all the time or it changes depending on what the public health authorities do, so instead of the City Council having to meet activate an ordinance an deactivate it and stuff like that, it just makes more sense for this to be an Executive Action.”
Mayor Ezard stated previously as Region 3 faced increased state restrictions due to increasing positvity rates, that he would not mandate the wearing of masks in the city because the Jacksonville Police Department did not have enough manpower to enforce it.
He and Police Chief Adam Mefford said during discussion at the October Council Meeting, the city already has the ability to enforce masks citing that if a business called police in the event a customer refused to wear a facial covering, JDP officers could charge the individual with disorderly conduct if they failed to comply with an officers instruction to put on a mask or leave the establishment.
Warmowski says the proposed ordinance would be more fair and less harsh to violators than charging them with disorderly conduct.
“That was kind of like the work around for giving someone a fine, and that fine would be $75. This fine is $50, so it’s less, and it’s more straight forward, so you don’t. If you do decide to not wear a mask then it’s more just a $50 fine for a mask violation. It’s not something criminal. It’s like a parking ticket basically.”
Currently the Jacksonville Police Department is down approximately five officers due to recent retirements, medical reasons and two officers leaving to take positions as Police Chief in nearby communities.
One suggestion proposed at last night’s meeting was for the city to hire one or more Community Resource Officers to help with enforcement, without having to pull an officer from patrol. Warmowski says he understands the issue of mask wearing can be an emotional subject for some, but he says it’s the least people can do, especially for those in healthcare.
“People will make an argument that they have a right to not wear a mask, but the issue is that they also don’t have the right to not wear a mask and then get someone else sick. Since this is a public health emergency, as declared by the state, the county, by the CDC, everyone says its a public health emergency going on,so there’s extraordinary previsions that make it so that you can’t get other people sick.
The reason I did bring this up is because I had some friends who work at the hospital who said that the ER room is backed up with COVID patients, that there’s limited beds for COVID patients. The really important thing right now is to talk to some nurses about this because there the ones on the front line, and from what I understand, they’re pretty worn down and the morale is low. We need to do things to support our medical personnel besides just putting up a sing in our yard.”
The Jacksonville City Council will next meet on Monday December 14th at 7:00 pm for a second reading of the proposed ordinance. Warmowski says he presented it in the traditional manner of carrying over to the next month’s meeting in order to give time for public opinion prior to any vote on the measure.