Courtesy of the City of Ferndale

The City of Ferndale voted to continue its recognition of COVID-19 as a public health emergency, with city councilmembers voting 3-0 in favor at a special meeting this afternoon. Councilmembers Kathleen Bullard and Robin Smith both attended the meeting and expressed a desire to continue the recognition, but their Zoom calls dropped before an official vote was taken. 

During the meeting, City Manager Jay Parrish said the emergency ordinance must be voted on every two weeks per state law, and stressed the importance of social distancing and handwashing in order to combat a potential spread of the virus. 

“These are the best chances of reducing the [spread] of that virus in our community,” Parrish said. 

Parrish went on to recognize that COVID-19 is highly contagious and although the morbidity rate is low, it has still been deadly for some. 

“It would be prudent for the council to approve of [the continuation] again,” Parrish said. 

During the meeting, Councilmember Stephen Avis asked Ferndale Police Chief Bret Smith what he has been seeing on the streets when it comes to the community complying with the mask and social distancing ordinances. 

“The compliance looks pretty good,” Smith said.

However, Smith did mention he has a small staff and asked the public to give him immediate reports of any violations instead reporting it two to three weeks after the fact. Smith also pointed out that there are exemptions to the mask order for people with breathing problems, and that families living together do not need to comply with social distancing precautions.

“There is a perspective out there that rules aren’t being followed, but they are,” Smith said.

Ferndale Health Inspector Vanessa Huerta reiterated Smith’s call about quickly reporting anyone not complying with the mask ordinance. Huerta said she has personally spoken with every business owner in Ferndale about the ordinances and said she has been working hard to ensure public safety. 

“I am professional, but adamant about these rules,” Smith said. “This has been a 24-hour-a-day job, and I have been doing everything I can for compliance.”

However, Councilmember Avis said he has seen a number of people not complying with the mask order and asked Smith what should a business do if they have customers who are unwilling to comply. Smith said businesses have no authority to enforce the ordinance, and that their recourse is to call the police if they should so choose. Smith that he himself has asthma and is technically exempt from wearing a mask, but does so to set an example for the community. 

Councilmember Kathleen Bullard also echoed Avis’ observation when it comes to people wearing masks. She said she has been in stores where patrons and employees are not wearing masks. Bullard said she would like the City to step up its education about the reasons on why masks are important, and suggested that Ferndale buy and distribute masks outside of business in order to reach a high level of compliance. Councilmember Robin Smith agreed with the need to educate the public. 

“The science behind the mask is to protect other people from you,” Smith said, adding that sneezing and coughing can spread germs up to 20 feet away from the person.

Smith has seen about 60 to 70 percent of the public complying with the ordinance and said he wants the Ferndale Police to do better when it comes to enforcement. Mayor Michael Sweeney also said he has seen customers and staff at local businesses not wearing masks. Sweeney fears that the mask ordinance will soon move into a direction where people wearing the masks are protecting themselves from those who do not wear one instead of the public doing their share of protecting others from them. He also said that he would probably not shop at businesses that are not enforcing the mask ordinance and feared that others may be doing the same.

“There are going to lose business and it is not like business is going to be booming back,” Sweeney said. “These are simple behavior adjustments — wear a mask, wash your hands, etc. We need to remind people what behaviors are needed to stay safe in our community.”