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Town of Highlands reinstates mask mandate within city limits

At a special meeting this afternoon, Friday, August 27, the town board passed an order reinstating the wearing of masks in all business zones, in both inside and outdoor spaces. There are no inside capacity limits as a part of this order. Customers in restaurants and bars do not have to mask while eating and drinking.

Tom Neal, CEO of Highlands Cashiers Hospital and director of the vaccination initiative, made a compelling case to the board for the necessity of masking in business areas. The positivity rate for the plateau area is at 18%, which is considered to be a high code red zone. The order will remain in place until the positivity rate drops below 10%. At that time, based on the recommendations of health professionals, the board will consider rescinding the mask requirement. Warren Cabe, Director of Macon Emergency Services, supported Neal’s assessment and concerns. Both agreed that the COVID situation in the area is as intense, or even more so, than at the beginning of the year. Health experts are seeing a surge with the spread of the Delta variant.

This order does not apply to residential zones, although everyone is encouraged to socially distance in crowded situations. For example, no one is required to wear a mask if walking down 6th Street, a neighborhood area.

At the meeting, Dr. Patti Wheeler emphasized both unvaccinated and vaccinated people should wear masks in the business areas. She stressed that a vaccinated person can spread the virus and contract COVID, although those cases in the vaccinated overwhelmingly tend to be minor to mild infections. Everyone should wear masks in the business zones.

The mayor and board of commissioners urge residents and visitors to voluntarily mask in business areas out of mutual support in curtailing this growing public health concern. The town enforcement approach of this order will be to encourage voluntary compliance.

Below are the exceptions to the masks requirements:

Mask-wearing exemptions will be allowed for the following:
Children under two years old, due to the risk of suffocation.
People with:
A medical condition,
Mental health condition, or
Disability that precludes wearing a mask.
This includes:
Those for whom a mask could obstruct breathing,
Who are unconscious or incapacitated,
Unable to remove a mask without assistance,
People for whom seeing the mouth is essential for communication:
Hearing impaired, or
Those communicating with a person who is hearing impaired.
People for whom wearing a mask would create a risk as they work, as determined by:
Local, state, or federal regulators, or Workplace safety guidelines.

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