Albany City Commission rescinds mask requirement for public buildings in 5-2 vote

Mike Trotter, Albany's director of procurement, discusses a long-delayed transportation center project during a Tuesday Albany City Commission meeting.

ALBANY — The city of Albany relaxed mask requirements on Tuesday, voting that visitors at city-owned buildings will no longer be required to mask up before entering, as the response to the deadly coronavirus enters a new phase.

The city and Dougherty County implemented a mask ordinance in all of their buildings after re-opening following the initial COVID-19 lockdown, a requirement that has remained in place.

At the jointly owned Government Center, there have been different requirements as the city required wearing masks at its meetings. The county rescinded its mask requirement in buildings it owns earlier this year, and most members of the public and county employees no longer wear face masks during its meetings.

“It’s a matter of how we’re going to enforce it when there’s no longer a mask ordinance in effect,” Mayor Bo Dorough, who voted with Commissioners B.J. Fletcher, Matt Fuller, Bob Langstaff and Chad Warbington to rescind the ordinance, said.

While the mask requirements have gone by the wayside, the community has not responded to vaccines to a level that would establish herd immunity. The number most often referred to is a 70 percent vaccination rate to reach that point where the virus can no longer easily find new hosts to infect.

In Georgia, Wheeler County’s vaccination rate was worst in the state, with 19.05 percent of its population receiving at least one dose of the two-dose vaccine regimen and 17.57 having received both doses, according to the Georgia COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker website. Oconee County was best, with 55.54 percent having received at least one dose and 52.12 fully vaccinated.

For the state as a whole 44.69 percent were fully vaccinated and 39.85 percent had at least one dose.

Dougherty County was on the lower end of the spectrum among the state’s 159 counties, with 36.65 percent having one shot and 33.01 percent having received both.

“I think we really need to consider this as a public safety and public health issue and not concentrate on whether there should be an ordinance,” Commissioner Demetrius Young, who was joined by Commissioner Jon Howard in voting to keep the mask requirement in place, said. “What we can do is look out for the health of our citizens by ensuring people protect themselves and protect others by wearing masks. It (pandemic) is not over.”

In other business, the commission heard that funding for a new transportation center at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. is about $2 million short. The city’s Procurement Division recommended accepting the bid from Albany-based LRA Constructors of $11,545,271. Albion General Contractors tendered a $12.51 million bid for the project.

The city has about $7.53 million available from federal and state grants, with its match, including land, totaling about $2.17 million, for a total of $9.57 million.

“We anticipated it would be short because of construction costs going up,” Albany Transportation Director David Hamilton said. “We’re going to apply for those funds. We’ll come back before the board with those numbers.”

The Georgia Department of Transportation has indicated it will help the city come up with the needed funding, said Hamilton, who said he is confident the money to meet the shortfall will be provided.

The clock is ticking, though, as the bid is good for only 60 days. Once the bid is awarded, the construction timeframe is 13 months.

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