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Bellefonte urges residents to follow masking orders

BELLEFONTE — Go anywhere in Bellefonte Borough, and you’ll see signs at businesses urging patrons to wear a mask or face covering.

The signs are prevalent at restaurants, shops, grocery and convenience stores. And while the majority of the signs say “mask required,” many customers simply disregard the signage and walk in without a mask or face covering. Now, the Bellefonte Borough council is hoping to change that.

At Monday night’s council meeting, which was held via Zoom, council unanimously approved a resolution that calls for Bellefonte residents and those coming from outside the borough to wear masks when in public places. Additionally, the resolution calls for Bellefonte Borough Police “to educate the public on mandatory mask-wearing requirements.”

Council member Deb Cleeton talked about the lackadaisical response to mask-wearing in the borough.

“I’ve noticed around downtown, that compliance has loosened up over the last few weeks. If you go to any convenience store, the staff is geared up, but the customers are not. I think people are really beginning to not take it seriously. And I’ve also noticed that in a couple of businesses in town that there’s signage on the outside of the place of business requiring masks of all customers, but then the employees are not masked up. There’s a miscommunication there,” Cleeton said.

Of Centre County’s 230 COVID-19 cases, 47 reside in the Bellefonte zip code — 16823. Those 47 cases are the second-most in the county, right behind State College, which has 51 active cases.

Council member Mike Prendergast hopes that businesses will become more strict about their mask policies.

“All they need to do is update their signs that say ‘no shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service,'” Prendergast said.

Since mask-wearing is not a law, it’s nearly impossible for businesses to enforce their policies.

“I don’t know how you enforce it and how you pick your battles,” Cleeton said.

Council president Joanne Tosti-Vasey said that since Bellefonte is not a “home rule community,” policies are impossible to enforce.

“We do not have enforcement powers. The only community in Centre County that has enforcement powers is State College because they’re a home rule community and they could pass an ordinance,” Tosti-Vasey said.

Instead, Tosti-Vasey said, the Bellefonte community will be charged with educating its residents and visitors.

“We’ve been requested to provide the education, particularly with our community policing. Police go around … and they talk to business owners, talk to the individuals and request that they follow these orders. We cannot enforce, but we can educate … talking to the public is a great method to protect all of us,” Tosti-Vasey said.

Assistant borough manager Don Holderman said that the borough is working with the Bellefonte Chamber of Commerce to make sure that businesses are using and enforcing mask policies.

“The chamber has gone out directly to businesses,” Holderman said, “and businesses want to comply.”

Bellefonte Borough Council will meet again at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, July 20. The meeting will be held via Zoom.

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