Bainbridge city council considers mandating facial coverings in public

Discussion at this week’s meeting of the Bainbridge Island City Council regarding a potential mandate for people to wear face masks in public resulted in general agreement to more thoroughly explore the issue but left key points still uncertain.

The council debated the effectiveness of such an order, possible community responses, enforcement methods, and the differences between means by which such a mandate might be made official.

Ultimately, it was decided by unanimous vote the city attorney would author a draft ordinance in time for more specific discussion at the June 9 meeting.

The topic was put forward by Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos, who cited many other cities of various size around the country which have already enacted such measures.

“We’re not alone on the political spectrum or in size if we were to do this,” she said. “I’m just throwing that out there … This is happening across the country, this isn’t a kind of out there proposal.”

Hytopoulos said the city mandating such protective measures would take the pressure off local businesses to enforce it on their own.

“I like the idea of us considering mandating masks because … it would relieve our local businesses of the responsibility of saying, ‘I choose to not allow you on my premises without a mask,’” she said. “I think there are a lot of business owners who would like to do this, we know some are doing this. If we take the choice away and say, ‘On Bainbridge Island we require you when you go into an enclosed public space to wear a mask,’ then we take that responsibility and pressure away from them and we protect their employees.”

Also, Hytopoulos said, the situation as it is now puts an unfair burden on workers to maintain safety in shared public spaces like grocery stores and pharmacies.

“I am bringing this forward because, to be frank, it’s keeping me up at night that we have gone into Phase 2, we’re looking at Phase 3, and we are officially mandating as a county and/or state that employees wear face coverings, and the purpose of that is to protect [customers] when we go in there … but we’re not requiring the customers who come into retail spaces, or other enclosed spaces with other people, to wear masks and that feels just completely inequitable and wrong to me,” she said.

“I myself would also, as an individual, like when I walk through the aisles of a grocery store to know that I’m not going to be running into people without masks, but the fact is there are people who have to spend their entire work lives in these situations and it doesn’t feel good.”

Other members of the council were in agreement the issue required careful consideration, but opinions differed on the necessity of legally mandating the wearing of masks, as opposed to what was called an “aggressive marketing campaign” touting the benefits, and also what would be proper enforcement and penalties for those who failed to comply.

“I think it’s an interesting idea that’s being proposed and I would support having the attorney look into it,” said Councilman Michael Pollock before raising the question of whether a face shield is a reasonable substitute for a mask.

“My sense is that people are just kind of fed up with this and we’re going to have to go through another wave of deaths, quite honestly,” Pollock said. “I was just over in Seattle … there were people out and about, they were having parties, they were not wearing masks, they were not social distancing. I don’t know if that’s appropriate or not, but it seems like we would be wise to figure out what is the appropriate tool to keep the virus from rising up again. If this is the appropriate tool I will support it, but I want to have the facts on hand and have some confidence that this is going to serve the purpose that it’s intended.”

Mayor Leslie Schneider said she’d support mandating the wearing of masks in public “with tweaks,” being squeamish about obligating people to use them outdoors, with the possible exception of downtown Winslow.

The necessity of masks outdoors, in and outside of the downtown Winslow area especially, was a point of clarification all agreed merited further discussion next week.

Councilman Joe Deets was as emphatic in his support of people wearing masks as he was in his feeling an ordinance was unnecessary.

“I’m very pro mask but I’m not in favor of mandating,” he said. “I do not want to give the police another thing to do, I think it’s a mistake.”

He championed the idea of the aforementioned “aggressive marketing campaign” and the city’s making free masks available to businesses and visitors.

Councilman Kol Medina said he wasn’t completely sold on the idea of free masks, although he supported the idea of mandating their usage in certain areas.

Primarily, he emphasized the need for quick action by the council.

“If we’re going to do this we need to do it,” he said, “and actually we should have already done it.”

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