FAYETTEVILLE -- Residents will be required to wear masks in most indoor public places after a City Council vote Tuesday night.
The council voted 8-0 to require masks, with certain exceptions, and to spend $100,000 for a public safety campaign. An emergency clause, also unanimously approved, makes the rule effective today.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson in news briefings has encouraged residents to wear masks but so far has not mandated it for the general public.
Council Member Matthew Petty sponsored the measure, saying masks have proved to be an effective means of preventing the spread of covid-19. Washington County in particular has become a hot spot for the disease.
The ordinance requires anyone in the public portion of a business to wear a face covering. Exceptions are made for when people are eating, drinking or exercising, or in small group settings in which a distance of 6 feet can be achieved. It does not apply to outdoor settings unless social distancing is not possible.
Businesses also must post signs on their doors instructing customers to wear masks.
The ordinance allocates $100,000 from the city's emergency fund for a public safety campaign.
The money will buy masks to give to businesses or public safety employees to provide to customers and residents who don't have them. Customers will not be allowed to enter businesses without wearing masks.
Residents will not be subject to penalties for not wearing masks, other than being denied entry to businesses. But businesses that "willfully neglect" the ordinance could be subject to the city's standard penalty, which is a citation and a fine of up to $500.
City Attorney Kit Williams advised the council that the measure likely exceeds the city's authority. Directives from the state give the governor and secretary of health sole authority over all restrictions on commerce, he said.
Council members acknowledged the limitation on authority, but they said it was the right action to take given the surge in cases of covid-19 in Northwest Arkansas.
Washington County has reported more than 1,900 cases, according to the state Health Department. Washington County has had a total of 18 deaths, with 15 of them county residents and three of them Oklahoma residents, according to county Coroner Roger Morris.