Sunday, September 20, 2020

Masks to now be required in all outdoor, public areas in Downtown EL

August 7, 2020
Downtown East Lansing on July 17, 2020.
Downtown East Lansing on July 17, 2020. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens declared a City State of Emergency, issuing a new order requiring masks be worn in all public, outdoor spaces within the boundaries of the Downtown Development Authority, or DDA, effective Monday.

At the June 30 City Council meeting, council passed Ordinance 1488, granting the mayor the power to limit public gatherings in the event of a state of emergency. According to the ordinance, under the declaration of a city-state of emergency, the mayor has the ability to limit the size and location of gatherings on public property; close streets, alleys, parks or other public places; regulate and/or prohibit pedestrian traffic, including the formation of lines on public streets; and regulate entry in city buildings and structure. 

Knowingly violating the order may be punishable by a civil infraction of up to $25. 

The order, which Stephens signed on Friday, may only be in place for seven days from the date it was ordered, though it can be continued or renewed with the consent of council. If approved and consented to by City Council, the order will likely remain in effect until Sept. 30.

This comes following more than 170 COVID-19 cases linked to Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub with video and photographic evidence showcasing long lines of patrons extending onto the public right-of-way without masks or consistent levels of social distancing during that time, according to the order. 

MSU announced a policy at their June 26 Board of Trustees meeting, requiring masks be worn at all times on campus, both indoors and outdoors. This, as well as historically large numbers of individuals associated with the MSU campus crowding the DDA District and the importance of having consistency in rules between the city and the university, played into the decision, the order said. 

“This order has been issued in anticipation of the increased foot traffic that is expected in downtown East Lansing with the return of MSU students this month,” Stephens said in the release. “COVID-19 is far from over and we, as a community, need to be doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our fellow community members from the virus that causes it.”

According to the release, signs will be installed at the entry points of the DDA district early next week notifying visitors masks are required and the city is working to implement a downtown ambassador program to encourage mask-wearing downtown when there is anticipated high-foot traffic. 

This is in accordance with an initiative explained by MSU’s University Physician David Weismantel at the June 30 City Council meeting whereby student ambassadors will be placed around campus to encourage mask-wearing and social distancing, especially in indoor areas. 

“With MSU’s recent decision to require that masks be worn at all times both indoors and outside on campus, we decided it was prudent to expand that requirement to the outdoor public spaces in our downtown area for the protection of our community and businesses,” City Manager George Lahanas said in the release. “Wearing a mask is one of the simple things we can all do during this unprecedented time to help prevent the spread of this virus, so that we can stay safe to stay open."

The new requirement does not apply to individuals who are younger than five years old; those who cannot medically tolerate a mask; those who are eating or drinking while seated at a table/food service establishment; those who are exercising, when wearing a face covering would interfere in the activity; or those who are at a polling location for purposes of voting in an election, according to the release. 

City Council is expected to vote to renew the order at their Aug. 11 meeting, which may be accessed online.

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