BOONE — Beginning Saturday, June 20, face coverings are required to be worn by all persons in indoor commercial businesses and town offices in the town of Boone, with some exceptions, after a 3-2 vote of the Boone Town Council on June 16.
The council reconsidered a mask mandate upon the request of Councilperson Sam Furgiuele, who first made a motion to require face coverings to be worn by the public at a May 26 meeting of the council. The motion failed at that time by a vote of 2-3, with Councilperson Loretta Clawson joining Furgiuele in favor but Councilpersons Dustin Hicks, Nancy LaPlaca and Connie Ulmer voting against the motion.
Furgiuele asked the council to reconsider the restriction because COVID-19 case numbers have continued to increase locally and across the state, and because he has observed many people who are not wearing masks in public, even in establishments where signage asks or directs customers to wear masks.
“There are very few people who are wearing masks and many who are ignoring social distancing,” Furgiuele stated in meeting materials. “Masks have been shown to be effective in reducing the transmission of the virus, and we should take this small step to try to protect the employees in Boone businesses, Boone residents and our visitors.”
The amendment to the town’s state of emergency declaration states that in any commercial business or town office, in an area that is open to the general public, all customers, employees and any other occupants or users of such area shall wear a face covering. While wearing a face covering, social distancing (six feet) shall still be maintained so far as possible.
The amendment makes exceptions for: people who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical or behavioral health condition; children under 11; customers at restaurants who are seated at their tables; law enforcement officers or emergency responders who reasonably deem it necessary to remove a face covering in the course of his or her duties; a person complying with directions issued by a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop or criminal investigation; and a person who reasonably deems it necessary to remove his or her face covering for safety reasons or in order to carry out his or her job duties.
Violation of the restriction would be punishable by a class 2 misdemeanor, but police would be directed to first educate upon the first offense, and then give a warning before citing someone with a violation.
The restriction was slated to take effect at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 20, with enforcement of any penalties to be delayed by an additional three weeks.
“In my 20-plus years (on the council), I believe this is the most important vote I have ever cast,” Clawson said. “This vote is about saving lives.”
Hicks, LaPlaca and Ulmer expressed varying concerns about how the restriction would be enforced by police. Hicks suggested that the council spend more time discussing the responsibilities of officers and their methods for enforcing the restriction, but Furgiuele pressed the council to move forward.
“Every day that we delay we are putting more lives at risk unnecessarily,” Furgiuele said.
LaPlaca said she could not “support anything that criminalizes behavior by so many unknowing people who come into our town.” She added that she took issue with comments that she felt suggested that supporters of the mandate cared about people while those who were opposed “want people dead.”
Ulmer recalled recent assertions that businesses want to do the right thing with regard to the virus.
“My question is why aren’t they mandating in their restaurants that (people) wear masks?” she said, similar to “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policies. Ulmer ultimately voiced support for the restriction as a temporary measure and joined Furgiuele and Clawson in voting for the motion, with Hicks and LaPlaca against.
The council heard from a number of people on both sides of the mask issue during the June 16 meeting’s public comment period. Tom McLaughlin said he wants to see businesses open back up, which is why he supports mandated mask usage.
“I don’t think we can rely on voluntary good behavior,” McLaughlin said.
Karen Sabo also spoke in support in a statement she submitted to the council, saying, “Those who go without (masks) are selfishly putting their own comfort over the health of the community.”
Other commenters questioned the efficacy of masks and characterized the mandate as authoritarian.
“My health is my concern and not to be dictated by a government body,” said Erik Lanier in a statement.
Boone joins the cities of Raleigh, Asheville, Durham and the counties of Orange, Durham and Buncombe in requiring face coverings in certain public areas. On June 18, Gov. Roy Cooper said state leaders were contemplating a statewide mask mandate, with an announcement to come next week.
“New research shows that this is an incredibly effective tool,” Cooper said, referencing a recent study led by Texas A&M University that found that face coverings “significantly reduces the number of infections.” The study estimated that the use of face coverings alone reduced the number of infections by over 78,000 in Italy from April 6 to May 9 and over 66,000 in New York City from April 17 to May 9.
Asked if mask wearing should be a matter of personal responsibility, Cooper said, “I think public health is a priority, and there are laws in place that allow protections for the public health.”
In other action at the June regular monthly council meetings, the council voted to approve the 2020-21 town budget, with $16.5 million in General Fund expenditures and total spending of $28.2 million.