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'We're still in this pandemic': mayor extends local state of emergency and mask order, encourages testing

October 1, 2020
Downtown East Lansing on Sept. 18, 2020. The city of East Lansing has posted signs and has information stations with free masks for those who visit the area.
Downtown East Lansing on Sept. 18, 2020. The city of East Lansing has posted signs and has information stations with free masks for those who visit the area. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens signed a new proclamation Tuesday, extending the city's state of emergency, as well as the requirement to wear masks, according to a statement from the city.

"The truth is that we still have an emergency going on," Stephens said. "We're still in this pandemic, and it was necessary for us to extend this state of emergency because it's the right thing to do."

The mask requirement extends to the outdoor, public spaces within the boundaries of the East Lansing Downtown Development Authority (DDA). The requirement would have ended on Tuesday.

"While this new, extended order can only be in place for seven days, it can be continued through October 31, 2020 with the consent of Council," the statement said. "It is expected that Council will be considering the order’s continuation at its special, electronic meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 6."

Masks are also required indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Executive Order 2020-153.

COVID-19 cases have surged in East Lansing, which Stephens cited as reasoning for the extension.

In order to remind community members and visitors, signs have been installed throughout the DDA district, according to the statement.

"As we're seeing more and more folks are deciding to go out and be active and support our businesses, which is really important to do," Stephens said. "But it's important to do that in a safe way."

Additionally, the city has also implemented a downtown mask ambassador program which, "encourage mask-wearing in the downtown during times when there is anticipated high foot traffic."

Mask ambassadors are a city staff feature who pass out masks and educate community members on high traffic days, Stephens said. High traffic days include Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Under Ordinance No. 1488 adopted in June 2020, Stephens can declare a state of emergency and issue rules and regulations for public property to protect life and property during the emergency, according to the statement. A violation of this order can result in a civil infraction punishable by a fine up to $25.

"We're not looking to give people tickets over this rule, what we're really looking for is encouraging the right behavior," Stephens said. "One of the ways that we can do that is by actually implementing and having people downtown during those high traffic times to say 'hey, there's a mask order in our downtown and we've got one for you if you don't have one.'"

The statement said masks are encouraged for those not required to wear one; however, the order does not apply to children under the age of five. Additionally, the mask requirement does not apply to those who cannot medically tolerate one, those eating or drinking while seated at a restaurant, those exercising where a mask would interfere or those who are at a polling locations to vote in an election.

"I would also encourage any member of the younger population and/or older population that's been partaking in gatherings in the city of East Lansing to go and get a test," Stephens said. "It's not just students, but it is a good amount of folks in our community that have tested positive due to gatherings in our city."

Stephens said community members think of COVID-19 testing as the end-all-be-all, but in reality, testing is a snapshot into time.

"Right now, especially with the surge that we've seen, it's very important that if you or your roommate or somebody you live with has been in contact with other people in a social setting like a gathering, you should go get yourself tested," Stephens said. "It's important, and I think the Ingham County Health Department really needs those numbers right now."

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