PUNTA GORDA — Punta Gorda’s rule requiring indoor face coverings is officially over at the end of the month.
At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Lynne Matthews said that since none of the council members requested extending the temporary law, they would let it “sunset without further ado.”
“It served its purpose,” Matthews said. “Everyone that wanted it was very happy that we did it.
“Now is the time to start moving forward and since a lot of people have been vaccinated, we feel that it is the time to let the ordinance go.”
Established in June, the city’s mask mandate has been the subject of controversy throughout the coronavirus pandemic for both supporters and opponents, even inciting protest at City Council meetings and hundreds of emailed comments from residents.
Punta Gorda resident Kenley George has opposed the mandate since it was first enacted.
“It’s been a long time and it’s time for it to end,” George told The Daily Sun. “Other cities and counties — like Collier County — have let theirs expire; it’s time (for Punta Gorda) to follow suit.”
Similar mask mandates in Naples and Collier County both expired April 13.
A handful of Punta Gorda residents also wrote in to Wednesday’s meeting, both for and against a possible extension.
“The city of Punta Gorda has become the laughing stock of Southwest Florida and rightfully so,” wrote Maria Brasileiro. “You are the last holdouts to have an unenforceable mask bandage mandate. You’re dividing our community and costing business revenue.”
In September, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared that local officials could no longer impose fines on residents found to be in conflict of such mandates.
In November 2020, the City Council voted to extend the mandate through April 30 despite losing the ability to enforce it.
Bob Felkins also wrote into Wednesday’s meeting against the extension, simply stating, “We feel the mask mandate should be eliminated.”
Heather Graham petitioned for another extension on the mask rule for the sake of the community’s children.
“Vaccines are not available to children under 16,” Graham wrote. “It is important (we) continue to stay the course and protect all of Punta Gorda’s population.”
Sue Krasny, of the Sea Grape Gallery in Punta Gorda, wanted the city to extend the mandate through the end of the summer.
“Many of our recent customers (at the gallery) have been travelers from other states,” Krasny wrote. “This influx of tourists reinforces the city’s need to continue our mask mandate.
“The mandate also provides support to our local businesses to continue mask mandates.”
Matthews did say that businesses can still enforce a mask rule inside their establishments even though the ordinance is expiring.
“I know that we will still be enforcing it in the City Council Chambers, in City Hall and on this campus,” Matthews said, “and we will still be doing social distancing practices, as well.”