Having tried more than a month of education, the Hays Police Department will now give tickets to violators of the city’s mask ordinance.
"For the most part we’ve gotten great feedback and cooperation, but there are some who just refuse to comply," said Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler. "I’m not sure it’s fair for this business to lower the number of people they can have inside their business, while this business just packs them in."
The ordinance originally went into effect for people 8 and older on July 27 and expired Aug. 31. The city commissioners last week voted to extend the ordinance until Oct. 5. The commissioners called for enforcement.
"We should make sure we’re treating everybody fair and equal," Scheibler said during a news briefing Tuesday morning at City Hall, 1507 Main.
"I think we’re just to the point now where we just need to hold everyone accountable to the same rules. Those that voluntarily do it, I’m extremely grateful. I appreciate their leadership in this community," he said. "Those that choose not to, we’ll have to continue trying to educate them, and there may be some enforcement action."
As provided by the ordinance, the first offense is a $25 fine plus $100 court costs; second offense is a $50 fine plus $100 court costs; and third offense and beyond is a $100 fine plus $100 court costs.
Employees and customers can be fined for being without a mask if they aren’t social distancing.
Business owners of bars and restaurants can be fined if they don’t provide 6 feet of social distancing for their customers who have to remove their masks to eat and drink.
"If the business is not allowing their customers a social distancing area when they take their masks off to eat or drink," Scheibler said, "that’s considered to be a violation."
As long as a business owner appears to be trying, the police will continue to work with them, Scheibler said. He noted those that have signs on their front door stating masks are required, bars and restaurants that provide 6 feet of separation between their booths and tables, and their employees are wearing masks.
A business with no signs encouraging masks, whose employees aren’t masking and where there’s no effort to separate the tables will have a problem, he indicated.
"Those are all indications to me that they’ve just chose to ignore the law of the city of Hays and the safety of the community," he said. "We’re going to try and focus on those ones who are just blatantly disregarding the ordinance."
Since students at Fort Hays State University have returned, there’s been a big jump in house parties and large gatherings, he said.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Ellis County also has ballooned in the last couple of weeks.
On Monday, the county had 78 new cases from Friday, according to the Ellis County Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard.
That brought active cases to 179 and hospitalizations to four, the largest number yet.
Most of the enforcement will likely be complaint-driven, Scheibler said, through an email to the police department, firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We get those emails every day and they are dispatched out to the officers," he said, noting that people have been discouraged from calling 911 for mask complaints.
Up until now, the police have not given any tickets, he said.
For enforcement, police will keep an eye out for violations during the normal course of their patrolling.
Scheibler said the police have worked to educate and guide business owners about the ordinance with the help of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Chamber and the Downtown Hays Development Corp.
"We have a list of 30-some businesses that we’ve been to, that we’ve educated, that we’ve given packets and we’ve given them signs," Scheibler said. "We’re aware of where we’ve been at. We’ll continue to follow up on complaints."
Some businesses have done a great job, he said, citing Thirsty’s Brew Pub & Grill, 2704 Vine, and Gutch’s Bar & Grill, 111 W. 7th.
"They’ve gone above and beyond the mask mandate trying to keep this community safe," he said. "The overwhelming majority of our community want to keep our people safe, they want to keep the schools open, they want to keep Fort Hays State open. So we just need to continue to work together. I do appreciate that."
Scheibler said the city is looking for compliance from everyone.
"Whether you agree with it or not, it is the law in the city of Hays," he said. "So we do need people to follow the ordinance."
Corrected Sept. 1, 2020 to correct the HPD email address for reporting complaints.