MORGANTOWN — At midnight tonight not wearing a mask or face shield indoors in public within the city of Morgantown will become a misdemeanor punishable by a $25-$500 fine.
That was the takeaway of a Tuesday morning special meeting of Morgantown City Council that included input from Monongalia County Health Department Executive Director Lee Smith as well as state lawmakers.
Council also adopted a tiered process for isolating businesses deemed outbreak sites — defined as three or more cases stemming from a single location. The ordinance mirrors a county-wide mandate put forward by the MCHD. Both will take effect at midnight.
Both will come by way of an emergency ordinance approved by council and enacted by the city manager’s office. The ordinance will remain in effect until repealed or modified by the city manager.
The meeting came hours after an executive order from Gov. Jim Justice closed bars in Monongalia County — now the state’s leader in positive COVID-19 cases at 557 — for 10 days.
Referencing the state’s color-coded county chart, Smith mused that Monongalia County could probably be considered “infrared” as it’s seen more than 350 new cases since July 1. Of that number, more than 75% fall in the 18-29 age range.
Council’s session came a day after a Monday morning gathering of county, municipal and state officials that resulted in a request for Justice to issue an executive order mandating Monongalia County businesses enforce the use of masks or face shields. Justice has yet to act on that request.
As for the city mask mandate, Morgantown Interim Police Chief Eric Powell said he didn’t foresee any real issues with enforcement outside of tracking who’s been issued warnings. He explained that if someone is in a public building without a mask and refuses to leave it would be treated like any other trespassing call. If the person continues to refuse once asked by police, it would likely advance to disorderly conduct.
“I think the volume will be pretty high initially, but I think once we get the message out that we’re taking it seriously and we’re taking enforcement action, I think it will be lowered,” Powell said.
As for the parallel city/county ordinances regarding outbreaks within businesses, after three positive cases, the business would be forced to close for deep cleaning and MCHD inspection. If an additional three individuals test positive, the business would need to close for 14 days, get cleaned and inspected. Three more positive tests after that and the business would be closed until the outbreak in the county slows and it is deemed safe to reopen.
They also noted that interfering with a public health officer attempting to enforce this order shall be punishable by a fine of not less than $50 and not more than $500.
If the MCHD inspects or licenses a facility, it will be considered a business, Smith said, noting the department inspects schools and daycare centers.
“My concern is we license bars, we license restaurants, we license schools and hotels and motels and what have you, tattoo parlors, we do it all,” Smith said. “But we don’t have that relationship with the box stores and there are people who are essential services that, to be candid, have basically flaunted that they don’t have to wear a mask. So it’s a bit of a challenge when we get complaints on a daily basis … Part of this awkwardness is because the governor’s leadership team has not put the teeth into the ordinances that mandate 100% mask usage.”
Asked if he’s received any indication that Justice would eventually apply penalties to the statewide mask mandate, Smith said he had not.
“What I’m hearing in back channels is that this is a problem at the local level and that locals should solve it,” Smith said. “If it goes well everybody will be happy and we’ll get an attaboy, attagirl from the governor. If it goes sour, I’ll leave that to your imagination how that might work. But I believe we’ve got to do something.”