What was one of the largest emotional issues facing the Abilene City Commission in recent years, ended with a failure of a second to a motion to adopt a mandatory mask order in public places in Abilene.
In just 48 hours before the announcement that a mask order was on the table for the special meeting on Tuesday, there were 270 emails sent to city hall.
Before the start of the meeting, about 15 people gathered on the lawn of the Abilene Public Library asking commissioners to vote no.
Several of them spoke out against an ordinance that would require a fine to be in place for breaking the regulations.
In the end, the commissioners didn’t have to vote. A motion by Commissioner Tim Shafer failed to receive a second, thus failing.
“It was brought on too fast,” said Commissioner Dee Marshall. “I think it was overreaching our authority.”
Commissioner Brandon Rein agreed.
“There is a fine line and I think that, for me, this was over it,” he said.
Mayor Chris Ostermann said the ordinance was already written without input from the commission.
“There needs to be social accountability and not legal accountability,” said Commissioner Trevor Witt who attended by phone.
The only one speaking in favor of the ordinance was Dr. Brian Holmes, Dickinson County Health Officer, who stressed it was for the health of the public.
“Wearing a mask does not close any business,” he said. “It does not decrease foot traffic at a business.”
He said there needs to be some enforcement.
“That’s the problem. We’ve given the people the opportunity to show good faith, exercise to do the right thing, but they are not doing it,” he told the Reflector-Chronicle.
He said many businesses in Abilene are “thumbing their nose” at the mask requirement which the Dickinson County Commission has in place.
Holmes said that by wearing masks, the virus can be contained so businesses can stay open.
“People are going to have to shut down because it is going to get worse. People are going to quarantine their workers and they are not going to have the staff to stay open,” he said.
Holmes said that quarantine is not a local issue. It is a state mandate.
He said that anyone that comes in contact with someone that has tested COVID-19 positive and has spent 10 minutes throughout a day inside of 6 feet of that positive case must be quarantined.
Or if someone is coughed on, sneezed on, vomited on or comes in contact with secretions, they also must be quarantined.
“These are state guidelines,” he said.
Holmes said letting the virus run its course is not the answer.
“How many more deaths do we need to have?” he said.
While Holmes said that masks are not 100 percent effective, “anyone that says that masks don’t work doesn’t know the data.”
Several speaking against the mandate talked about constitutional rights and about freedom.
Brian Harris said he has spent many years working with immunlogy and pharmaceuticals.
“Understanding this disease and how we work through it has been very lackey,” he said. “For one thing if you believe that it is here (mask), I won’t take it off, if this here is going to stop a disease. It will not. If you have been told that, you have been lied to. There is no possible way you can stop it.”
He said we are not going to get rid of the disease.
“We are not. It’s here. It’s a real disease but it is a disease that we can manage and work through. It’s not through this. It’s not through social distancing. It’s not through sanitizing. — Those are good practices. Don’t get me wrong. — But for enough individuals to have antibodies to neutralize COVID-19 disease.”
Don Nebelsick from Don’s Tire and Supply said the business works in an uncontrolled environment.
“We don’t work in an air conditioned place in our shop. We have dust. We have dirt. We have sweat. It would be virtually impossible to be masked at all times down there,” he said. “I, as a business owner, am not going to stop someone from coming into our place that prefers not to wear a mask.
“We realize we do have a problem and you are trying to do the best thing to your knowledge to try to help us get through this and sometimes we do things that just don’t make sense. I personally feel this is one of them.”
Chris West of West’s Country Mart said he was representing the businesses in Abilene.
“There is not a business in town that supports Abilene more than my family,” he said. “We love it here. Abilene has always supported us.”
He said the mandate to have the businesses be the police of the mask is extreme.
“If someone comes to my store that doesn’t want to wear a mask and they tell me no and walk past me, I’m not doing to tackle them,” he said. “I am also not going to pay a fine because they chose not to wear the mask.
“We do a good job in cleaning and we don’t want people to get sick,” he said.
However, Holmes pointed out the businesses do regulate non-smoking and proper attire regulations.
Connie Brunner who owns a business in downtown Abilene said a lot of small businesses have been struggling.
“There are no people on the sidewalks. There are no people in the stores. And we’re going to put masks on them?” she said.
The ordinance would have required persons to cover their mouths and noses with a mask inside any indoor public space where distancing of 6 feet at all times is not possible.
The ordinance reads in part:
“Abilene must require all employees, customers, visitors, members or members of the public to wear a mask or other face covering when:
a. Employees are working in any space visited by customers, members of the public, or co-workers who are present at the time;
b. Employees are working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others;
c. Customers, members, visitors or members of the public are in a facility managed by the business or organization;
There are exemptions in the proposed ordinance such as children, medical conditions, deaf or hard of hearing people and athletes.
Fines ranging from $50 to $150, depending on the number of violations, could be issued.
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.