As coronavirus cases creep upward in Charlotte County, commissioners disagreed Tuesday on a mandatory mask requirement.

Arguments against included that it is unenforceable, that masks are used improperly or that it would better enforced by businesses. The board took no vote, but asked staff to issue a statement, which was: “The Charlotte County Commission on Tuesday strongly encouraged residents and visitors to wear masks while in public when social distancing is not possible.”

Like the rest of the state, Charlotte County cases of the virus are increasing and victims are growing younger, Health Chief Joe Pepe said. The state rates are far more dramatic and cases are far younger — in the 25-54 range, Pepe said, compared to locally where the 55-64 group just overtook the 85-plus group in highest number of cases.

Rates locally have gone from about five new cases a day to eight, Pepe said.

Some of the latest victims, Pepe said, were a 1-year old and a 10-month old, who are doing well.

Commissioner Chris Constance, a medical doctor, tried to persuade the board to act as did Monroe County in the Florda Keys in mandating masks.

“It’s going to keep you safer. It’s going to keep your neighbor safer,” he said.

Other board members disagreed.

“I’m not in favor of mandatory. I never will be,” Commissioner Chair Bill Truex said, noting that people routinely misuse gloves and masks.

“I’ve seen people wear gloves and take them off with their teeth!” he said.

Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch aimed for a compromise.

“I’d like the board to officially recommend that people be required to wear a mask before entering a facility,” he said.

Commissioner Ken Doherty said it would be better for businesses to mandate masks of their customers and employees.

Enforcement would be a problem, Commissioner Joe Tiseo said.

“I can tell you what’s going to happen. People are going to be calling 911, ‘There’s a guy without a mask. I want you out here.’”

Audience members weighed in.

“If this were a wildfire, we wouldn’t care who started it,” said Sally Simon, speaking in favor of mandatory masking. “I’m 72 years old. I’m on every hit list. I consider it in the nature of a potential attack. I don’t care about conspiracy agendas. Just help me keep myself alive.”

Michael Zarzano spoke against masks, citing a New England Journal of Medicine letter from doctors who on April 1 said masks do not protect against incidental passing in public.

“We are going to destroy the American economy for less than 1% of the population,” Zarzano said.

Authors of the NEJM letter wrote again in June to object to their article being used as evidence that masks were not effective for public health. They advocated use of masks for any sustained interactions.

With younger people as the main victims, the hospitalization and death rates have not increased locally or statewide, Pepe said, even with an increase in cases. The risk, however, he said, is if these young people go home and infect their uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents — or if they infect an elderly person for whom they work as a health care worker.


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