A new resolution tells residents to wear masks in Charlotte County, but the sheriff's office said they're not required to enforce it.
Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the new resolution Tuesday. It was on the consent part of the agenda, so they voted it in without debate along with another 24 expenditures, resolutions and recommendations.
After defeating a mask ordinance 3-2 two weeks ago, the commission asked for a resolution. A resolution appears to have less legal authority, although County Attorney Janette Knowlton has not defined this distinction.
The move comes as hospitalization of coronavirus patients increases to near capacity at area hospital intensive care units. Charlotte County's death and hospitalization rates for the virus far exceed the state, due to the county's exceptionally high age demographic.
Unlike the ordinance, the resolution has no enforcement language. Several commissioners have said they believe use of masks is better regulated by area businesses. Businesses are stated in the resolution as also having to require masks and place signs advising the public of this.
Mask opponent Cynthia Compton described the vote by commissioners as "a huge disappointment. It's upsetting that people think they can control your life."
"The next thing you're going to do is try and tell me to put some needle in my arm with some vaccination. That will never happen. I'm declaring that right now," she added.
Another anti-masker, John Saunders, quoted the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Feb. 29, when he told the public that masks would not protect them from coronavirus.
On July 12, however, Adams walked back the earlier advice, saying a steady stream of incoming data is reversing advisories from early in the pandemic.
"We follow the science and when we learn more, our recommendations change," he said.
The resolution leaves out enforcement and penalties, but the wording gives the impression of being a requirement.
"Every person...shall, in the absence of social distancing, wear a face covering..."
Enforcement may not be stated, but it is on some people's minds.
Anti-mask advocate Michael Zarzano said he will refuse to wear a mask when entering the county building at Murdock Circle.
Inside the building, security staff said they will not be allowing people in without masks. Anyone managing to enter and refusing to wear a mask could face trespass charges, they said.
In response to questions from the Sun, Charlotte County Sheriff's Office issued this statement:
"The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office does not have the authority to enforce any resolution and will continue to educate the public based on the CDC guidelines. This is not an ordinance but merely the strong opinion by the Board of County Commissioners. Additionally, we will continue to respond to all calls for service."
Supporters outnumbered opponents in this meeting, unlike the last vote.
"I realize that this is not the same as having actual penalties," said resident Jane Merriam, "but I think this will encourage the general public."