Fayetteville has enacted a new ordinance requiring individuals to wear masks in public.
Passed by the city council on Tuesday, June 16, the ordinance requires individuals “within public service areas in all places of public accommodation” to wear masks that cover their mouth and nostrils.
This ordinance, which was passed unanimously, comes after the state has entered into Phase II of its reopening plan and as Northwest Arkansas has seen a surge of COVID-19 cases. While the Northwest Arkansas region initially had low numbers of cases in the early weeks and months of the public health emergency, those numbers have dramatically increased in recent weeks.
Looking at the Arkansas Department of Health’s map of COVID-19 cases, Northwest Arkansas has a significant cluster of counties with high numbers of cases. Of the four counties located in the northwest corner of the state, three are colored dark blue – the highest level used on the map. These three counties are Benton County, Carroll County and Madison County.
Benton County has 1,612 total positive cases and 618 active cases as of Wednesday, June 17 with nine deaths. Carroll County has 95 total positive cases with 51 active cases and one death in the same time period. Madison County has 128 total positive cases with 75 active cases and no deaths.
The fourth county in the northwest quadrant is Washington County, where Fayetteville is located. Washington County has the highest number of cases among all counties in the state, topping even Pulaski County, the state’s most populous county.
In recent weeks, notable Northwest Arkansas figures have sounded calls on the rising number of cases in the region. Notably, Washington Regional Medical System administer Birch G. Wright issued a letter urging the community to take the surge in cases seriously.
At the Tuesday meeting, the council passed the new ordinance to address the health and safety of citizens during the ongoing outbreak.
There will be several exceptions for wearing masks in public. While eating or drinking, masks can be removed if social distancing and “disinfection best practices” are followed. This also applies to exercising.
Locations with 10 or fewer individuals that have limited public access or do not serve the public will not be required to have masks if social distancing can be followed. Masks are also not required in outdoor settings while social distancing is required except at “managed events.”
There will also be “reasonable accommodations” made for individuals who cannot wear masks due to a “disabling condition,” according to the ordinance.
In addition to the requirement of wearing a mask, all businesses, offices, shops, manufacturing facilities and other facilities are required to post “conspicuous signs at all entrances” informing individuals – from employees to customers to visitors – that they are required to wear masks in order to be admitted inside the premises.
“Places of public accommodation” in Fayetteville will also be required to provide disposable face masks to individuals for “free or a nominal cost.” Individuals that refuse to wear masks are to be denied entry to their establishments.
The city council also set aside $100,000 to be used for a public safety campaign centered on wearing masks during the public health emergency. This campaign is expected to include the distribution of free masks to local businesses, a business support line, and an outreach strategy for “high-interaction sites.”
This ordinance has a sunset clause for repeal once Gov. Asa Hutchinson ends the public health emergency in Arkansas. The council is allowed to repeal the ordinance completely or in part. It is also authorized to extend the mask requirement and programs.
See the full ordinance here.