City Council enacts emergency ordinance as students return to Ann Arbor

Monday, August 24, 2020 - 9:22pm

Young people hang out at a house near the University in June.

Young people hang out at a house near the University in June. Buy this photo
Dominick Sokotoff/Daily

The Ann Arbor City Council approved an emergency ordinance to require face masks and put a limit on the sizes of social gatherings at a city council special session Monday evening.

The emergency ordinance — sponsored by Councilmembers Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2 and Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5 — is designed to mirror guidelines implemented through Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order and Washtenaw County’s recent social gathering restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said he is proud to see the city taking action and promoting guidelines for staying safe and healthy during COVID-19.

“Each of us doing our part, whether you’re a resident who has come to Ann Arbor for the first time today or whether you were born here decades ago, … all of us have a crucial role to play in maintaining our own personal health and the personal health of the community,” Taylor said.

With the new ordinance, people are now required to wear a face mask while in any indoor public place, any outdoor public place when unable to maintain a six foot distance from others and while waiting for or utilizing public transportation, taxis or other hired transportation services. 

Those under five years of age as well as those with health conditions that prohibit them from wearing a face mask are exceptions to the ordinance. Individuals do not have to wear face masks if they are eating or drinking while seated, if they are working in a public safety role in which a mask would interfere with their performance or if they are voting in a polling place, among other exceptions.

Additionally, the ordinance restricts the size of social gatherings to 10 individuals when in an indoor setting and 25 individuals when in an outdoor setting, complying to guidelines set by Washtenaw County last week. Those not from the same household must maintain a physical distance of at least six feet. Exceptions to gathering rules include places of religious worship, weddings or funerals scheduled before the ordinance was passed and at polling places.

Anyone not in compliance with gathering restrictions can face a fine between $100 and $250. 

At last week’s council meeting, Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones and Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox discussed plans to keep Ann Arbor safe as students begin returning to the University of Michigan campus, including the Michigan Culture of Care Ambassador program. Councilmembers voiced concerns about how the University would be enforcing off-campus social distancing and potential consequences for violations.

Ramlawi, who was among those concerned about the University’s plans, said the ordinance is an important step in ensuring students are following the state and county guidelines.

“As we know, the students have arrived, they’re back and it’s a scary situation out there,” Ramlawi said. “The programs outlined by the University of Michigan, … unfortunately it’s not looking like (they’re) going as planned.”

Lumm said it is important that the University and Ann Arbor approach the return of students as a collaborative effort to ensure the health and safety of both students and residents.

“Although the governor’s executive order and the county’s public health order are still in effect, we thought it was still important to clarify exactly what the rules are in Ann Arbor,” Lumm said. “It’s not introducing a new set of rules, it’s making sure everyone in Ann Arbor — including the thousands of U of M students arriving from all over the globe — is aware of the city’s requirements and expectations.”

Council also approved a resolution to authorize Taylor’s declaration of a local state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ann Arbor previously declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19 in March, but the declaration ended in June. Taylor cited a recent increase in Washtenaw County COVID-19 cases as well as the return of students to the University as reasons to implement a new declaration.

Daily News Editor Barbara Collins can be reached at bcolli@umich.edu