PUNTA GORDA — Punta Gorda’s indoor mask mandate stays in place for now, but the City Council will consider relaxing the rule in the coming months.
At Wednesday’s meeting, council members approved a motion to extend its current face covering mandate — set to expire Oct. 6 — through Nov. 6.
The decision was made not only to keep the city’s current status quo on masks but also to allow more time for the City Council to discuss adopting a resolution similar to that of Charlotte County’s, which encourages the use of masks but does not enforce it.
“I think it will serve the community (and the city) better that we harmonize with what the county is doing,” said Council Member Jaha Cummings.
Mayor Nancy Prafke also said the city might be better off with something that is not mandatory, but more of an encouragement.
City staff plans to draft a resolution similar to the county’s and bring it back before City Council at its Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 meetings.
For Punta Gorda residents Dave and Tammy Kalin — who both claim medical exemptions for wearing masks — softening the mandate sounds like a good plan.
“I think it’s a smart choice,” Dave told the Sun. “(I think) it is going to take some of the heat away from those folks who are aggressive people to begin with and now they feel emboldened (to say) ‘you shall’ when they don’t know my condition. Hopefully that will slow down some of that anger.”
Dave said he suffers from an arterial condition in his brain that would make masks dangerous for him to wear.
“I can no longer shop in the city of Punta Gorda,” Dave said at the meeting. “When I go shopping in the city, the residents now feel so emboldened (because of the mandate) to scream at me and yell at me. I’ve had people spit on me because I don’t have a mask on.”
Tammy said she won’t go shopping in the city by herself anymore because of the abuse she’s received.
“There have been comments where people said, ‘I hope you get COVID-19 and die’,” Tammy said. “I have (also) been physically accosted by a man who stood over 6 feet tall. As I was getting an item off the shelf, the man rammed his cart into me hard enough that it caused bruising later.”
“Nearly all of my problematic encounters have occurred while shopping in the city limits,” Tammy continued. “The fact that these problems rarely happen outside of the city limits is a startling contrast that reflects the difference a mandate can create.”
Around 30 residents emailed into the meeting supporting the extension, some calling for it to go beyond the Nov. 6 deadline.
“The ordinance is working,” wrote Janet Thomas, “(make the) end of it through December for all of the senior citizens of our community.”
“We would like the City Council to extend the ordinance to at least the end of November or even the end of the year,” wrote John and Bonnie Benande.
Council Member Debby Carey thought they should hold off on making any major changes for now.
“People talking to me say that they appreciate the fact that when they go out they are going to be protected and they don’t go to Port Charlotte to shop for that very reason,” Carey said. “I think we’re jumping the gun.”