Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler would like to make a statement on Governor Hutchinson's mandate requiring masks to be worn in public.

Governor Hutchinson issued the mandate today, requiring everyone in public to wear a mask, both inside and outside, but there are exceptions. The mandate basically states that anyone in a public area, indoors or out, who will be around any non-household members and cannot maintain social distancing of more than six feet, must wear a mask that covers both the mouth and nose. However, a mask is not required under several circumstances. A few examples include persons:

• younger than 10 years of age;

• with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering;

• performing job duties where a mask could inhibit the ability to safely and effectively perform the duty;

• participating in athletic activities where the mask would inhibit those activities;

• consuming food or drink;

• driving alone or with passengers from the driver's household

• receiving services that require access to the face for security, surveillance, or other purposes.

• voting, assisting voters, serving as poll watchers or actively performing election administration duties;

• engaged in religious worship activities;

• giving a speech or performance for broadcast or to an audience (however those persons shall maintain social distancing);

• in counties where the Department of Health has certified the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 to be low.

The mandate says that persons violating this mandate can be cited and, if convicted, receive a fine of $100.00, up to $500.00. However, first-time violators shall receive a verbal or written warning. Violators under 18 shall not be cited but only receive warnings. People cannot be jailed or detained for longer than it takes to issue a citation. It also says the mandate shall not prohibit law enforcement officers or local officials from enforcing trespassing laws or other applicable laws in removing violators at the request of businesses or other property owners.

Sheriff Wheeler said "I feel like our citizens know when they should and should not wear masks and whether or not they fall into one of the categories that would exempt them from the mandate. If you see someone not wearing a mask, they may very well fall into one of the exempt categories and may not be required to wear one. Businesses may require patrons to wear a mask and, if customers refuse, the business is welcome to call us. But, citizens in public not wearing a mask may very well have a legitimate, exempted reason not to be. Please keep that in mind. We definitely don't want to cite citizens for this mandate and feel confident that the citizens and visitors of Newton County can make their own decision as to whether or not they fall under the mandate."

Jeff Dezort, Newton County Times editor, has worked at the newspaper since 2001. Before that he was a reporter, photographer and assistant editor of the Harrison Daily Times.

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