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St. Joseph County gets closer to mask mandate

Published: Aug. 25, 2020 at 11:36 PM EDT
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ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - A St. Joseph County face mask ordinance is one step closer to getting final approval.

There's been a lot of debate about face masks, but the St. Joseph County Health Department says this ordinance would require people to wear a face mask in certain public locations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

St. Joseph County Health Department officials say they believe this pandemic will continue through the middle of next year—and hope that a face mask ordinance will pass soon.

“Very simply face coverings save lives. Across the United States if there was better adherence to face coverings we would see tens of thousands of less deaths,” said Robert Einterz with the St. Joseph Health Department.

Face masks would be required in most public spaces, but eating and drinking would obviously be expectations.

“We are particularly looking at trying to change the culture, change the behavior, and we are going to focus on business establishments. And if we receive complaints against business establishments that the employees aren’t wearing masks or the customers within those establishments aren’t wearing masks, we will respond to that complaint by going to that establishment, observing what is going on,” said Einterz.

The St. Joseph County Health Department says first, individuals would receive a warning.

After that, it's a $50 fine.

Then a $250 fine.

“If an individual is repeatedly violating the order and we get a complaint against that individual then we will investigate,” according to Einterz.

But critics of this ordinance, who declined to speak on camera, says making people wear masks is unconstitutional and is a violation of someone's liberty, some even asking the health department to do more research.

“If community spread reduces to such a level that it’s no longer prevalent within the community, that would be one reason to withdraw the order,” said Einterz.

The Human Services/Criminal Justice Committee approved it Tuesday night's St. Joseph County Council meeting.

Now it goes to full council for consideration in September.

Another topic discussed at Tuesday night's meeting: hazard pay for over a dozen departments like Portage Manor, the Juvenile Justice Center and the coroner's office.

According to St. Joseph County leaders, it's possible that some of the CARES Act grant could be used for hazard pay.

The conversation was brief—but will be discussed again at the next meeting.

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