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Bellefonte council tables masking ordinance

BELLEFONTE — A masking ordinance was front and center at Tuesday night’s Bellefonte Borough Council meeting.

After more than an hour of discussion, a potential masking ordinance was tabled by a 5-4 vote. The meeting, which was held via Zoom, attracted community members and business owners, in addition to the council members.

The meeting began with a statement from Bellefonte borough manager Ralph Stewart, who said he received numerous emails about the potential ordinance.

“We received approximately less than 10 in favor of a mask-type ordinance. There were approximately 30 against and another 15 asked for a delay, but were also against,” Stewart told council. “In addition, there was a petition circulated online … there were nearly 1,000 signees, all against a mask ordinance. In general, that’s the flavor of the written communication.”

Bellefonte is attempting to follow State College’s lead for a masking ordinance.

Last month, State College Borough Council approved a temporary ordinance setting mandates and enforcement provisions for several COVID-19 mitigation measures. The State College ordinance requires masks to be worn, with some exceptions, in public. It limits gatherings at most residential properties to 10 unrelated people and at public parks to 25 people. Additionally, it restricts waiting lines outside of businesses to 10 people, spaced six feet apart and wearing masks.

According to the ordinance, there are some exceptions to the masking mandate. Included in the exceptions are those who have a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask. In those situations, residents are exempt, but must provide within five days documentation from a medical professional verifying the condition in order to not be issued a citation.

In State College, anyone found in violation of any part of the ordinance can be issued a citation for a civil infraction punishable by a $300 fine. The ordinance currently runs through Jan. 31, 2021, or until the Centre Region Council of Governments and the Pennsylvania Department of Health rescind their emergency declarations — whichever comes earlier.

Council member Doug Johnson also said that he’s received numerous communication from borough residents who are against a mask ordinance.

“I had 146 signatures on a petition that was just dropped off at my house this evening,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to add that to the list.”

Council member Michael Prendergast spoke in favor of a masking ordinance.

“State College area just had 147 cases in the week of Aug. 28-Sept. 3, according to the Penn State dashboard. We have people that work in State College daily and commute. We’ve been lucky in Bellefonte so far that we’ve only had 68 confirmed cases total,” Prendergast said. “But we are either naive or deluding ourselves if we don’t think this virus is going to get here.”

Prendergast explained his position on masking.

“The purpose of wearing a mask is not to protect the wearer. It’s to protect other people. A doctor doesn’t wear a mask into an operating room so he doesn’t catch something from the patient. It’s to not give the patient something. We can’t prevent it, but we can slow the progress of the disease. Not wearing a mask is not only inconsiderate, it’s irresponsible,” Prendergast said.

Council member Anne Walker also talked about the need for masking in the borough.

“I do feel a sense of urgency about this ordinance. I think that Bellefonte has been very fortunate that we have not seen the kind of numbers that State College is seeing, but I think that we need to pass this in order to prevent that,” Walker said.

Council member Randy Brachbill is chairman of the safety committee, which put together the ordinance.

“I think in some cases, I will agree that we may have overstepped our bounds of what we are responsible for. We have to let the public be responsible for themselves,” Brachbill said.

He was not opposed to tabling the ordinance, he said.

Bellefonte Police Sgt. Jason Brower joined the Zoom call to discuss a potential ordinance.

“Just so council has an idea, the enforcement side of this would have some hurdles,” Brower said, “because depending on the type of call we get … there are a lot of different little caveats that we could get into. There is going to be some muddy water for us to traverse and try to get through.”

Brower said that a citation — with court costs — would be around $150.

The ordinance will go back to the safety committee for further discussion.

Borough council will meet again at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 21. The meeting will be held virtually and will be televised by C-NET.

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