Masks required in parts of state; SWFL leaders unsure how it would work

Reporter: Morgan Rynor Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

For the third straight day, Florida broke its record in number of reported coronavirus cases with 3,822. That number is rising at a much faster rate. Over the past three days, more than 10% of the tests are coming back positive. Ten percent is threshold the CDC says is safe to continue to reopen.

In response to the current trend Friday, the Florida Medical Association “encourages local officials to adopt regulations requiring individuals to wear face coverings in public places.”

A number of cities and counties in Florida are now requiring it — Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa St. Petersburg, Orange county and Monroe County.

In Southwest Florida, no requirements have been declared by any counties or municipalities.

We asked local leaders Friday about their position on requiring masks. Out of the officials we spoke to, one told us mask requirements are a good idea. The others said it’s not necessary. Those who are not immediately in favor of mask requirements want to know how it could be enforced.

Naples Mayor Theresa Heitmann told us she’s considering making face masks mandatory.

“Using face coverings as a mitigation strategy has been proven to be effective in the reduction in the community spread of COVID-19,” Heitman said.

Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor isn’t ready to go that far. She’s sticking with encouraging the use of face masks in public.

“We’re so far along in the process,” Taylor said. “I’m not sure there’s a way to turn this around without locking people down again, and that is unfortunate. And I’m not willing to do that.”

Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello told us hospitals are not at capacity, so he says a mandate is out of the question.

“Is it going to be mandatory at this point?” Coviello said. “We’re not having that discussion, and it’s something that, in the future, I don’t see us looking at that.”

As said above, other local leaders wonder if enforcement is even possible.

“If we were to mandate it, we don’t have the staff to even begin to enforce it,” Punta Gorda Mayor Nancy Prafke said.

“What are we going to do?” Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann said. “Are we going to put people in jail for not wearing a mask? Or are we going to fine them $50. You’re gonna have to bring in the national guard to run up and down the streets.”

Even though he’s resistant, Mann said he thinks it’s a discussion we must be ready to have.

“It’s draconian step, and nobody wants to take it,” Mann said. “But you cannot ignore the fact that our numbers of cases are so high.”

In a statement, Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson said having the police department enforce a mandatory mask requirement would not work.

Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons sent us a statement saying the city is monitoring the situation closely but would not give me a definitive answer.

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