OUR POSITION: As the nation, state and counties struggle with calls for an order to wear masks, Punta Gorda City Council made the bold move to require masks in indoor areas.
One local doctor said Punta Gorda City Council members displayed a Profiles in Courage moment when they voted unanimously to require masks to be worn in the city. And he wasn’t joking.
After examining more than 100 emails on the topic, hearing from a few residents in person and some debate, council members decided to do what they said was the “right thing.”
One of the council’s more outspoken proponents of masks, Vice Mayor Lynne Matthews, said: “This is for their own safety. We’re not trying to be political about this. If this ordinance saves one life or keeps a person from getting the virus, then I’m all for it.”
While council members agreed, others did not. Punta Gorda resident Jesse Bennett protested outside against the mandate.
“It is unconstitutional to tell people they have to wear a mask,” Bennett told the Sun. “If you feel sick, don’t go out in public. ... I’m all for choice, but to tell someone they have to (wear a mask) is not (the government’s) right.”
Another Punta Gorda resident agreed with council members. Michael Hirsh said, “Wearing masks is something I do for you, not something I do for me. ... Sometimes you have an obligation to do something for someone else, and this is certainly one of those times.”
City Attorney David Levin drafted the new mandate after examining a number of similar ordinances enacted by other municipalities.
The new ordinance requires face coverings to be worn by anyone 2 years old and older in all indoor public places in city limits. It also requires anyone preparing or serving food to wear a face covering.
There are exceptions. They include:
• People who are observing continuous social distancing.
• When the face covering causes impairment due to existing health conditions.
• If it conflicts with the Americans with Disabilities Act for that person.
• When talking to someone who is hearing impaired who needs to see the mouth of the person speaking.
• If you are working in a business where you do not have interactions with others.
• Working in a business where the use of a face covering would hinder performance of duties.
• Exercising and still maintaining social distancing.
• When eating or drinking at a restaurant while maintaining social distancing and seated at a table or bar.
• If you are employed as public safety, other life safety or health care personnel.
• If you are getting a service involving the nose or face where removal of a face covering is necessary (salons, barber shops, etc.)
• When you are engaged in an activity where some other form of face covering is required.
City code enforcement and law enforcement are responsible for policing the new policy. And, if you choose to ignore the ordinance, it can cost you.
A person who is found to be in violation — and refuses to comply with the initial warning — can receive a $25 fine for the first offense, $100 for the second offense and $250 for each offense from there.
Kudos to the Punta Gorda City Council for having the courage to do the right thing. We’d like to see similar ordinances passed by Charlotte, DeSoto and Sarasota counties and the cities of Venice, Arcadia and North Port.