Highlands Town Board mandates wearing masks in commercial areas

Highlands Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to the Town’s Emergency Ordinance that mandates everyone wear face coverings on commercial sidewalks and inside businesses at yesterday’s monthly board meeting. The amendment went into effect immediately.

Town Board mandates wearing masks on commercial sidewalks and inside businesses. Signs were posted Thursday evening along Main Street shortly after the Board approved the amendment.

The meeting began with public comment from the President of Old Edwards Inn & Spa Richard Delaney, who urged the board to adopt stricter regulations than what the state has adopted.

“The Governor’s mandate of mandatory face covering in public if unable to socially distance is quite bluntly, just not working,” said Delaney. “You are not able to safely distance on the sidewalks of B1 [zoned areas] where you’re supposed to be 6 feet away from people. The sidewalks in most situations are not even 6-feet wide.”

NC Governor Roy Cooper’s Order mandates wearing face coverings if social distancing is not possible. Delaney said he sees about 50% of people on Main Street who are not social distancing who are not wearing masks.

“The loophole in what the Governor puts in his mandate says, ‘unless you are able to safely distance,’ which gives anyone who does not want to wear a mask permission to do so,” he said. “I feel this should no longer be a pretty-please request or an honor system, it should be a directive because it is clearly not working in Highlands.”

Highlands Police Chief Andrea Holland said the Governor’s Order is unenforceable and their hands are tied in terms of what action can be taken without a mandate from the Town.

“Law enforcement cannot enforce masks, the only thing we can do is enforce it if the business requires it of their patrons, or if patrons refuse to leave the store,” said Holland. “It would definitely help us at the police department, having something that was mandated.”

Highlands Police Officers put signs on Main Street mandating wearing masks.

Commissioners agreed and felt something should be done immediately.

“I’d act on this right now,” said Commissioner Brian Stiehler. “Then you can at least say it’s now mandatory in Highlands to have a mask on.”

Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor said signs posted along Main Street mandating people wear masks had to be taken down because without a mandate within the Governor’s Order, or an amendment to the Town’s Emergency Ordinance, the signs were unenforceable and therefore inconsistent.

Commissioner Amy Patterson made a motion to require wearing face coverings (covering both nose and mouth) on commercial sidewalks and inside businesses. This does not include Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park or the Highlands Rec Park where Commissioners felt people could properly social distance.

“If they’re not going to let us put it on the signs unless we pass the declaration or ordinance, I would say let’s do that right here right now and put it back on the signs tomorrow,” said Patterson.

Signs were posted Thursday evening along Main Street mandating people wear face covers in businesses and on sidewalks in commercial areas.

Highlands Police Officers put the signs back up on Main Street later that evening.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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