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Mask enforcement order in Huntington stirs strong feelings among citizens, business owners

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The city of Huntington has put in place a mask wearing enforcement action, seeking to slow the spread of COVID-19 infections in the city.

HUNTINGTON, Ind. (Fort Wayne's NBC) - Huntington's mayor, who wants to slow the spread of COVID-19 infections in his city, is getting the attention of townspeople by putting in place a mask wearing enforcement action that can result in tickets and fines for residents and stores that don't comply with the new safety restrictions.

Under the order, if you go inside a bar, restaurant, retail shop or other public space, don't have a mask on and refuse to put one on, you are subject to a written warning the first time, but then there are fines tied to each successive violation, with stiff fines in play for five offenses and up.

Businesses in Huntington are also expected to require customers to wear a mask.

If they don't make a good faith effort by insisting on compliance and reporting willful violators to local police, they can be fined too, and after a fourth violation, a business can start to be shut down for a period of time.

Mayor Richard Strick declared a local disaster emergency after coronavirus cases began surging in the city.

Huntington County has been put in the category of the second highest level of concern for COVID-19 infections in Indiana.

We talked to a citizen who thinks the enforcement is out of line, and to a store owner who favors the action, knowing, however, that it is divisive.

"We have personally seen some people go elsewhere, because they don't want to wear a mask in our store. That's disappointing, maybe frustrating. It puts the small business owners especially in a position where they have to choose whether to follow a mandate or make a sale," said Rebecca Hanson, who runs an antique store downtown.

"I do feel sorry for anybody that's lost somebody and hospitals are getting full, so there is a need to be cautious, but I don't think that the mayor can force his own little rules for Huntington," said David Shideler, who shops in Huntington.

Mayor Strick says rumors are not true, suggesting city police will patrol on Thanksgiving Day, counting the number of cars in driveways as a basis for writing tickets under the new enforcement action.

Strick also emphasizes that unless you're in a large gathering of people, folks will not be ticketed for walking down a city street without a mask on.

Strick acknowledges that a number of citizens are dead set against the enforcement measure, but he maintains that once city leaders can clarify to opponents what the order actually calls for, many critics come around to believe it is reasonable in nature.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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