Athens-Clarke County commissioners to consider reinstating mask mandate Tuesday

At their meeting Tuesday evening, Athens-Clarke County commissioners will consider whether to reinstitute a mask mandate.

"We are going to be looking at re-imposing a mask mandate using the CDC's metric for high spread as the trigger," explained Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz.  "So that'll mean that when we have a hundred cases in one week per 100,000 people in the population, that's when the mask mandate will be in effect and we've been there for several weeks now."  

The move comes as COVID-19 cases in Athens-Clarke County and across the state have steadily risen in recent weeks, due in large part to the Delta variant.  

According to Mayor Girtz, the mandate would be indoors only and would include ACC government buildings. Private businesses, though, could opt out of the mandate as long as they post notifications at their entrances informing people of their mask policy.

"A business can place signage at their entry to indicate that they are not going to pursue masking within their business. So that way customers and the public broadly have knowledge of whether they want to enter that indoor environment," Mayor Girtz said.

University of Georgia Senior Dawson Watkins of Ellijay said he is vaccinated against COVID-19 and he thinks unvaccinated people should have to wear masks. He said it is discouraging that the pandemic has worsened to the point where mandates are needed again.

"It's very disappointing just because like I see so many people, like my grandfather for instance, he had COVID very bad," said Watkins. "Luckily he healed from it and got the vaccine, but everyone needs to understand that this is such a serious thing."

Athens would be the third major city to re-institute a mask mandate following Savannah and Atlanta. Mayor Girtz said they have also begun early conversations about offering incentives for people to get vaccinated.

"As we speak we have tens of thousands of undergraduate students rolling back into Athens and the data has indicated that some of the least vaccinated folks in the nation and the state are young people and so we really want to focus on being able to bring those folks to the table and get their shot as quickly as possible," said Mayor Girtz.  

Gov. Brian Kemp has publicly criticized both mask mandates and vaccine incentives, arguing they do not work. Mayor Girtz would not say whether he was concerned about pushback from the governor, who lives in Athens.  

"COVID is a multi-layered problem and when you have multi-layer problems, you need to have multi-layered solutions. So, getting vaccinations up is a piece of that, incentivizing vaccination is a piece of that and at least right now, masking is going to have to be a piece of that too because we want to keep ourselves and our loved ones and our family members safe," Girtz explained.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday.  

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