Fayetteville council revises mask mandate, new ordinance recommends face coverings for unvaccinated people

Dr. Marti Sharkey, the city’s public health officer, speaks during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. / Fayetteville Government Channel

People in Fayetteville are no longer required to wear masks in indoor places.

City Council members on Tuesday voted unanimously to revise the city’s mask mandate which originally required masks for everyone in public places of accommodation.

A decision was needed Tuesday since the original mandate included a sunset clause requiring the council to revisit the local law once Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s state emergency declaration ends. Hutchinson did not extend his declaration past its May 30 expiration date.

The new proposal was drafted by City Attorney Kit Williams, who said the goal is to bring the local rules more into compliance with new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the city’s Board of Health.

“The CDC has said if you’re fully vaccinated, then in fact you do not pose a danger to each other so you don’t need to wear a mask,” Williams said.

Dr. Marti Sharkey, the city’s public health officer, agreed.

“What we are learning is that vaccines are highly effective in preventing not just infection, but your ability to transmit the virus and your potential for getting severely ill,” said Sharkey. “So we wanted our city guidelines to be in line with the science.”

The proposal first stated that unvaccinated people would still be required to wear masks, but council members amended the rules to recommend rather than require face coverings.

That idea was first suggested by Council Member Holly Hertzberg at the council’s agenda-setting session last week.

“I’m just concerned if we’re not going to require any documentation, which I don’t think we should do, I don’t know that we need an ordinance requiring something if we’re not able to enforce it,” Hertzberg said.

Council Member Teresa Turk on Tuesday said she’d thought about Hertzberg’s comments and decided she would also rather the law simply recommend masks since there’s no way to know who is vaccinated. Turk said the uncertainty puts an unnecessary burden on business owners to decide who should be allowed inside.

Council Member Mark Kinion agreed.

“What this offers is the opportunity for a citizen to take responsibility for their own decisions,” said Kinion. “When we passed the original mask ordinance we did not have a vaccine available so we had to be proactive. But now, there is a choice so that you can be protected. If you don’t believe in the science behind the vaccine, you also have that choice.”

The council then voted 7-1 to amend the revised law to use the word “recommend” instead of “require.”

Council Member Matthew Petty cast the sole vote against the amendment. He said it wasn’t until the governor pivoted from simply recommending masks to actually requiring them that many people started wearing face coverings across the state.

Petty last week asked Sharkey whether she thinks there might be a resurgence of the virus this summer.

Sharkey was hesitant to speculate but said she doesn’t think the chances of a resurgence are very high.

“This virus has taught me not to use a crystal ball, but I don’t believe that’s going to happen,” Sharkey told the council at the most recent agenda-setting session. “We are seeing really wonderful results from the vaccine, we’re seeing our vaccination rates still going up, albeit slowly, and we are seeing our numbers go down.”

Sharkey said more importantly, hospitalization and mortality rates are dropping, which will likely be key factors in assessing the virus moving forward.

Council Member Sloan Scroggin asked Williams what effect the revised law would have on anyone who wanted to continue to require masks in their business. Williams said business owners have an inherent right to decide who can enter a private building, which is why some shops have “No shirt, no shoes, no service” signs posted.

“Our ordinance would have no effect on that whatsoever,” said Williams.

The revised mandate will only be in effect for about two months since the state legislature recently adopted a law which prohibits city’s from having their own mask mandates. That law goes into effect July 28.