Highlands Town Board reinstates mask requirements in all business zones

At a special meeting this afternoon, the Town of Highlands Board of Commissioners passed an order reinstating the requirement to wear a mask 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 wear a mask while eating and drinking. 

This order does not apply to residential zones, however, the town encourages people to socially distance in crowded situations.  

For example, no one is required to wear a mask if walking down 6th Street, a residential-neighborhood area.

Tom Neal, CEO of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital and director of the vaccination initiative, made his 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 now seeing a surge with the spread of the Delta variant.

At Friday’s meeting, Dr. Patti Wheeler emphasized both unvaccinated and vaccinated people should wear masks in the business areas.  

She stressed that a vaccinated person could spread the virus and contract COVID, although those cases in the vaccinated overwhelmingly tend to be minor to mild infections.

Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor and the BoC urge residents and visitors to voluntarily mask in business areas out of mutual support in curtailing this growing public health concern. He said the town enforcement approach of this order will be to encourage voluntary compliance.

Wearing a mask is required indoors for everyone in public places and the town urges people to wear a mask in outdoor settings when social distancing cannot be maintained. 

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.

The need for a mask will be required as long as the test positivity rate is in the “RED” category per the CDC. The need for mask will be reevaluated weekly.

Per the CDC, counties with:

  • test percent positivity <5.0% or with <20 tests in past 14 days: Green
  • test percent positivity ≥5.0% to ≤10.0% or with <500 tests and <2000 tests/100k and >10% positivity over 14 days: Yellow;
  • test percent positivity >10.0% and not meeting the criteria for “Green” or “Yellow”: Red.
  • Gray represents no data reported. Test positivity is rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent before classifying.

 Article courtesy of the Town of Highlands

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