Eureka Springs City Council approves mask mandate for city facilities
Effective immediately, all unvaccinated individuals are required to wear a mask inside city-owned buildings in Eureka Springs.
The Eureka Springs City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday night to mandate mask wearing among those who haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine. Mayor Butch Berry said cases of the virus are increasing in the state and it’s time to wear masks again.
“It’s almost up to where it was in November of 2020,” Berry said. “That’s pretty scary. I just got notice today there’s only eight ICU beds left in the entire state. That’s a record-breaking number. This is something that’s not going away.”
Berry said everyone who can get vaccinated should.
“We’ve kind of gotten loose with masks. We thought we were on the downhill side,” Berry said.
Berry said the council couldn’t pass a mask mandate earlier in the month because of a state law banning mask mandates, but Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox temporarily blocked the state from enforcing that ban on Friday, Aug. 6. The resolution would only require masks to be worn on city property, notably inside buildings such as the Auditorium and City Hall.
“I would still encourage you if you’ve been vaccinated to wear a mask,” Berry said. “It’s just for our own protection and it’s for your protection.”
Council member Harry Meyer moved to read the resolution for passage and said the Delta variant of COVID-19 is particularly insidious.
“This new variant is like chicken pox,” Meyer said. “One person can infect up to 15 other people, so there’s no way there’s going to be herd immunity until we have 70 percent of the population vaccinated.”
Berry said the resolution is for a period of 90 days.
“Within 90 days, things may look better and we may see the graph start going down. If so, the council has the authority to eliminate the masks,” Berry said. “Or we may see it going up and we may want to continue. This gives us that option.”
The council voted unanimously to read the resolution for passage. According to the resolution, law enforcement officers will encourage unvaccinated people to wear masks. If a person continues to refuse to wear a face covering in city-owned or operated facilities, the resolution says, they will be considered a trespasser.
Also at the meeting, Berry presented a plan to renovate Fire Station No. 3 and the Auditorium basement. Berry said the city received a grant to renovate the fire station and suggested using it for city meetings in the future. The fire station can seat up to 28 people, Berry said, and a firetruck can be removed to increase the capacity to 50 people.
Berry proposed installing an elevator in the Auditorium and redesigning a toilet near the entrance on the ground floor. That toilet would become a handicapped toilet, Berry said. Council member Terry McClung said he thought the council decided to renovate the basement of the Auditorium, not the fire station, for city meetings.
“I’m not really sure what brought this up again, because the intent was to use the basement and that’s a duplication of space,” McClung said, adding that he didn’t want to see a firetruck displaced.
Berry said there’s one firetruck in the fire station and it would be moved only to increase capacity for meetings.
“Whether the council wants to use it for city meetings, that’s up to them,” Berry said. “The grant is for the fire station. This is an option for us to be able to use the space instead of being here or downstairs, which, in my opinion, is still not a suitable place to have meetings.”
Council member Laura Jo Smole said she liked the plan.
“I think the fire station will make a great meeting spot, not only for council meetings but other meetings,” Smole said.
Berry said he would keep the council updated on the projects.
In other business, the council approved an ordinance establishing Juneteenth as a citywide holiday on a third and final reading by title only and passed a resolution imposing a 270-day moratorium on the approval of new conditional use permits for tourist lodging in R-2 and R-3 zones. The council voted on both issues at its July 26 meeting.
City clerk Ann Armstrong said the council accidentally skipped the vote on the third reading of the Juneteenth ordinance and city attorney Tim Weaver said he found issues with the moratorium on tourist lodging. Weaver said the council’s July 26 vote made exceptions in the moratorium for those who have a contract on a house and that needed to change.
“You may be allowing people an opportunity to commit fraud,” Weaver said.
The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23, at the Auditorium.