STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WTAJ)– At Monday evening’s State College Borough Council Meeting, Council passed a resolution supporting the Centre County Commissioners emphasis on the importance of masking.
But, beyond the resolution, discussion continued on a possible masking and social distancing ordinance in the borough.
The potential ordinance would not allow pedestrians to block the right-of-way in a side walk. In essence, pedestrians could not obstruct foot traffic by standing in lines for businesses–in certain areas (actual zones will be created where one cannot stand in line).
The ordinance would also require pedestrians to social distance and wear a mask, and police could issue fines (citations) those who do not comply with the ordinance.
Some on council feel the ordinance being discussed will give the borough more “teeth” in ensuring masking and social distancing.
Those who spoke out at Monday’s meeting said the ordinance is badly needed–after viewing a large crowd of Penn State students they said were not social distancing or masking in lines outside of downtown bars (over the “Virtual Arts Fest” weekend).
“We need an ordinance, as soon as possible,” said State College Borough Councilwoman Theresa Lafer, “this past weekend is a terrible foreshadowing of what is to come.”
She added: “This virus kills people, babies, grandparents, and everyone in between. Young men and women who think they’re safe are sharing this with the community.”
Lafer herself said currently she’s uncomfortable going downtown.
“I would not go downtown, a block away from my home right now. I wouldn’t got into a single retail place that’s opened, because you cannot tell me that with several thousand people there this weekend, a reasonable percentage of them were sharing that virus on every surface and on every building,” Lafer said.
To her, the ordinance is necessary to ensure the safety of borough residents.
“When I have neighbors saying ‘Who do I call the police?’ And I have to say the police can’t do anything, that’s not good,” Lafer said.
Others like councilman Peter Marshall agreed that an ordinance is needed, but he voiced concerns with how it will be enforced.
“If you saw the photograph of those lined up outside Doggies this weekend, I wonder how in heaven’s name we’re going to enforce the regulation to require spacing,” he said, “We don’t have enough people to deal with that if we don’t get very good compliance, that is a concern to me. Once these students come back, they’re back, I don’t care how much the University pivots…. they’re back. And we have the problem at that point. I think we should go ahead with the ordinance and make it as tough as we can, but we ought to think about how we will enforce that ordinance, I think that will be a problem.”
Borough Councilwoman Janet Engeman cited a quote from a recent Penn State webinar that she feels could be very telling.
“A woman [in the webinar] spoke the most important sentence in that webinar. She said she had spoken to students and they told her that they don’t want to be told what to do. If that’s the case then we are doomed,” Engeman said.
Engeman added: “Those kids mobbing the streets on first block of Pugh Street is probably only one of a half dozen places where that was happening. Those kids were so close together and not wearing masks. Do we really expect it’s going to be any different when 40-thousand students are going back here? I’ve driven through town and counted people wearing masks–it’s a handful.”
Currently the borough is still working to ensure the ordinance they’re discussing would be legal.
They cite some potential inconsistencies in enforcement policy from certain groups.
For example: the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) recently said that local law enforcement is not supposed to enforce masking and social distancing orders… but under the borough’s potential ordinance, that’s exactly what borough police officers would do.
The borough’s plan is to send a draft ordinance to the board of health, looking for feedback.
If the ordinance doesn’t need drastic changes, it could be voted on by borough council as early as their August, 4 meeting.