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October 22, 2020

Narberth passes ordinance to fine people who don't wear face masks

As COVID-19 cases surge in Pennsylvania, Montgomery County town moves toward stricter measure

COVID-19 Face Masks
Narberth Masks Fines HughE Dillon/for PhillyVoice

With COVID-19 case counts rising across Pennsylvania during the fall, Narberth has passed an ordinance that would fine people for refusing to wear face masks.

Narberth residents, visitors and businesses soon could face fines if they defy the Montgomery County borough's COVID-19 orders to wear a face mask.

A temporary borough ordinance passed this week — and awaiting the signature of Mayor Andrea Deutsch — would impose a $15 fine on people who don't wear face coverings in required areas.

Ordinance 1027 states that masks must be worn:

• Inside or on the grounds of any business

• Inside or on any publicly-accessible borough building, park, playground, field or open space

• On any public street or sidewalk in the 5a Downtown District or 5b Montgomery Avenue District of the Narberth's zoning map

• While working at a business or job when employees are expected to be in contact with any member of the public

• While working at a business when preparing, serving or packaging food and beverage for public consumption.

Those who do not wear face masks in these settings would be fined $15 if they refuse to put one on after receiving a verbal warning.

Any individual responsible for a business that doesn't comply with the ordinance would be given a verbal warning for a first offense. The second offense would trigger a $50 fine and all subsequent offenses would come with a $100 fine.

The ordinance includes a handful of exceptions. Masks are not required in a home, in vehicles and while seated at a restaurant to eat or drink. Sports practices and games also are exempt.

People with certain diagnosed medical and mental health conditions, as well as those with disabilities, would not be subject to fines. Those with religious beliefs that prevent masks would not be fined, either.

The ordinance is the first to expand upon Pennsylvania's existing mask mandate. Across the state, people are required to wear masks when outdoors and unable to consistently maintain a distance of six feet from people who are not members of the same household. The mandate also applies to indoor locations where members of the public are generally permitted.

The state has left discretion to local officials to choose whether to enforce stricter policies or impose fines. The Pennsylvania Senate has been considering a bill that would make defiance of the mask mandate a misdemeanor crime, but the legislation has not advanced.

Narberth's ordinance would remain in effect until the borough lifts the emergency disaster declaration it made in March.

In September, two Pennsylvania couples filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tom Wolf over the state's COVID-19 restrictions, citing Constitutional violations related to the mask mandate and contact tracing program. 

Montgomery County has been among Pennsylvania's hardest-hit counties during the coronavirus pandemic, reporting the third-highest total, behind Philadelphia and Allegheny counties.

If Narberth's order is signed by Deutsch, the borough will join a group of localities across the United States — many in California — that have taken similar measures to encourage face masks during the pandemic.

Pennsylvania is in the midst of a "fall resurgence" of COVID-19, with case counts rising in every region of the state. Public health officials have increasingly redoubled efforts to educate the public about the importance of wearing masks to halt transmission of the coronavirus.