Tuesday night, the City of Harrisonburg held an emergency meeting regarding an ordinance that would make it illegal to have gatherings of over 50 people. The ordinance, which was proposed in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus, was passed unanimously, Mike Parks, director of communications for the city, said.
Parks said the ordinance will go into effect Aug.12 at midnight. Since the ordinance was an “emergency ordinance,” it will only last 60 days. The city will reconvene to decide if the ordinance will be extended or lifted.
Parks said the ordinance won’t apply to JMU-held events, as the campus is state-owned property and JMU has its own rules and regulations in relation to the spread of the virus. He also said the ordinance doesn’t apply to religious gatherings.
“This ordinance would apply to groups that are wanting to have an event somewhere in town or someone that's having a family reunion, or a backyard barbecue or, that's trying to have a party, weddings or rallies or first amendment type of events,” Parks said.
This ordinance does apply to off-campus gatherings that have been prohibited by JMU if there are more than 10 individuals, Parks said. He said if the police are notified of the gathering of more than 50 individuals, they’ll come to the scene and ask to speak with patrons or event organizers and make sure those individuals are aware of the ordinance and the potential penalties.
If the hosts and attendees don’t comply, Parks said, police officers will then be able to issue a citation up to a misdemeanor, which could come with a $500 fine for the event organizer and $250 fines for any participants.
As far as other guidelines go, Parks said the city is on “the same page” as the state. However, he said the city doesn't have the ability to enforce the mandate that individuals must wear masks or face coverings in public.
“We don't have the power to enforce that, but we are certainly encouraging it,” Parks said of the mask mandate.
The city is also not opening up playgrounds and other recreational facilities at this time, and it’s limiting the number of people who can come into the city’s facilities. These measures are in an attempt to protect the city residents and employees from becoming infected, Parks said.
Though students are coming back to Harrisonburg soon, Parks said this mandate isn’t because of their arrival.
“I don't want anyone to think that this is targeted at any specific community,” Parks said. “Everyone, whether you're a student who's just arrived in the city for the first time, or you are someone who has lived your entire life here in Harrisonburg, everyone needs to be mindful of these rules and do their part. This is an issue we have seen across our city for the last four or five months now and everyone needs to follow this new ordinance.”
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