COVINGTON — Members of the Newton County Board of Commissioners emphasized their support of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 Tuesday night with two measures — approval of an ordinance requiring face masks under certain circumstances and approval of a resolution endorsing a “Do Our Part so School Can Start” initiative.

The mask ordinance follows on the heels of an executive order by Gov. Brian Kemp allowing cities and counties that have more than 100 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people to implement a local mask requirement. Newton has exceeded that threshold.

The ordinance requiring the wearing of face masks in public approved by commissioners Tuesday applies to residents older than 8. For those 8 and younger, wearing face masks is left up to parents’ discretion. The ordinance applies only in the unincorporated areas of the county.

In addition to exemptions in the governor’s executive order, the county’s face mask ordinance allows additional exceptions, including:

♦ When social distancing is possible and is being practiced

♦ Inside personal vehicles

♦ On residential property

♦ On private property where the owner or occupant does not consent to enforcement by the county

♦ When not recommended by medical professionals

♦ When in conflict with a medical condition or religious belief

♦ When it interferes with services such as haircuts or makeup

♦ When eating or drinking

♦ When necessary to perform a job

Commissioners approved the ordinance 4-1, with District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards opposed. Edwards stipulated that he strongly supports the wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19; however, he said the ordinance, with all its exemptions, is too ambiguous and would be unenforceable.

“I don’t know where you are going to have to wear one from looking at this list (of exemptions),” he said.

Commissioners unanimously approved endorsement of the “Do Our Part so School Can Start” initiative. The resolution is an expression of the board’s support of county-wide efforts to reduce the community spread rate of COVID-19 so that in-person school can start as soon as possible.

“I think it’s very important that all of us in leadership in the county do our part to make sure we are working together to get students back in the school system,” said District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz.

The resolution emphasizes measures that residents can take to reduce the community spread rate, such as social distancing, handwashing, use of face masks and staying home when sick. It also stipulates that the Board of Commissioners will collaborate with the Board of Education, the Chamber of Commerce, other local governments, and all other interested parties in reducing the rate of community spread so that schools can safely reopen as soon as possible.

As of Tuesday, Dr. Audrey Arona, director of the Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale Health Departments, said Newton County has a 14-day case rate of 370 per 100,000 population. The overall positive rate for Newton County is 12.4%, per 100,000, which Arona described as high and an increase from the previous week when the rate was 11.8%.

Arona said residents should take the precautions previously outlined — social distancing, washing hands, staying home when sick and wearing a mask.

“We know that community mitigation measures work; these are the only things we can do to stop this virus,” she said.

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I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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