Athens County breaks into the triple-digits of COVID-19 cases with the latest announcement from the Athens City-County Health Department. As of Friday at 2 p.m. there were 111 confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases in Athens County.

Of these 111 cases, 76 are considered active while 34 have recovered, there was one death from COVID-19 in March. Nine people are been hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Athens County.

Athens remains at “Level 2” on the Public Health Advisory Alert System, the state-wide system that measures the severity of the virus in each county. “Level 2” is listed as counties with “increased exposure and spread.”

At a state level there are now 62,856 total cases in Ohio and 3,032 deaths.

There have been 18 cases aged 0-19, 58 aged 20-29, 10 aged 30-39, eight aged 40-49, six aged 50-59, seven aged 60-69, three aged 70-79, and one case aged 80+.

In the counties surrounding Athens the confirmed cases stand at:

  • Washington – 144
  • Morgan – 12
  • Perry – 41
  • Hocking – 80
  • Vinton – 23
  • Meigs – 12

In light of the recent increases of COVID-19 in the county, the Athens City Council Committee of the Whole met on Friday evening to discuss an ordinance for a city-wide mask mandate.

City-wide and county-wide mask mandates are on the rise both in Ohio and the nation. On Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered mask mandates for 12 counties in Ohio that are now listed as high-risk “Level 3” counties: Butler, Clermont, Cuyahoga, Fairfield, Hamilton, Huron, Lorain, Montgomery, Pickaway, Summit, Trumbull and Wood.

The Committee of the Whole meeting was conducted virtually via Zoom and was attended by over 90 people. Council members shared their support for the ordinance.

“We’ve quadrupled our number of cases in two weeks,” Councilmember Sarah Grace said. “This is something we all need to do together.”

Councilmember Chris Fahl agreed.

“This is a responsibility with our oath of office which we all took,” Fahl said.

Following posted questions by viewers of the meeting, Grace read the ordinance aloud.

If the ordinance passes at the Monday City Council meeting, masks will be required during the following:

  • When entering, exiting, waiting in line, or inside public spaces in places of business
  • When entering, exiting, waiting in line, or inside public spaces in Athens City government offices
  • Any public transportation, this included buses, taxis and ride-shares.
  • Any outdoor space where or when a person is unable to maintain more than 6 feet distance.

The ordinance as currently written will not apply to:

  • Those with medical or mental health conditions with which a face mask would interfere
  • Any individuals not recommended by the CDC
  • Children under the age of 10
  • Restaurant or bar patrons while eating or drinking, the patrons would still be required to wear masks while otherwise walking around the establishment
  • School and childcare centers as these have independent governing boards
  • When receiving dental services medical treatments
  • When swimming
  • When exercising outdoors while maintaining social distancing
  • When exercising inside a gym while maintaining social distancing
  • When individuals are alone in a workspace not intended for the general public.
  • First responders when the mask interferes with the line of duty, they are to wear masks at all other times

Those found in violation of the ordinance may be fined $100, if the fine is not paid within 30 days a misdemeanor citation would be issued for the individual to come to court where the judge can rule to dismiss the misdemeanor if the fine is paid.

“People are going to be given plenty of opportunities to comply,” Grace said, stating that law enforcement officers will not be automatically handing out citations and that explanations of the ordinance and resources to get free face masks will be made available.

The Committee took public questions during the meeting. The upcoming Athens County Fair was brought up, with a community member asking if the mask mandate would extend to the fairgrounds which are privately owned.

“We have no authority on the fairground property. So that would be up to the fair board to enforce,” Law Director Lisa Eliason said.

Mayor Steve Patterson alluded to the fair when discussing events that have been recently canceled due to the pandemic.

“The only event that is still going to potentially occur is an event that I have some concern over,” Patterson said. The Athens County Fair is governed by the Agricultural Society which owns the fairgrounds. As a private entity on private property, it has the authority over the mask mandates.

Patterson believes that this mandate is the right thing for the council to do in light of the drastic increase of COVID-19 cases in Athens County.

“I am proud that we’ve all worked together on this,” Patterson said. “We’re seeing more and more cities across the state of Ohio taking things into their own hands. It’s the most responsible thing that we could be doing at this time.”

During the meeting it was discussed how many local businesses have already announced closures due to the recent increase of COVID-19.

The following businesses have announced closures:

  • Donkey Coffee, closed indefinitely following a barista testing positive for COVID-19
  • Hangover easy, closed until Saturday, July 11. They will reopen for to-go orders and delivery services only, closure followed an associate testing positive for COVID-19
  • Casa Nueva Restaurant and Cantina, closed indefinitely following a staff member testing positive for COVID-19, Casa notes that they were planning to close before the case was identified
  • Bagel Street Deli, closing for at least two weeks, precaution only
  • Tony’s Tavern, closed indefinitely, precaution only
  • The Pigskin, closed indefinitely, following a staff member testing positive for COVID-19
  • Grand China Buffet, closed indefinitely, precautionary
  • Athens Uncorked, switching to patio only, precautionary
  • Pawpurrs Bar, closed temporarily, precautionary
  • Nelsonville Emporium, closed indefinitely, precautionary
  • Kiser’s Barbeque, closed indefinitely, precautionary
  • Dynasty Restaurant, closed indefinitely, has been closed since beginning of pandemic due to unavailability of ingredients

The Athens Messenger will continue to monitor the business community and report on further closures and the economic impact of the pandemic.

The Health Department continues to recommend that people wash their hands frequently, observe social distancing protocols by keeping a 6-foot distance from others while in public, and wear a mask.

Currently, COVID-19 tests are available to those who have symptoms. A test can be ordered by a physician, at the Emergency Room, Holzer, and CVS on State Street.

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