Punta Gorda City Council members unanimously approved an emergency ordinance that would mandate masks in indoor public places.
The city is also encouraging businesses to hang signs reminding shoppers to cover up in an effort to keep everyone safe.
“It’s a life or death situation,” said Diane Muschlet of Charlotte Harbor.
A spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southwest Florida is a major concern for people like Muschlet.
“I really do think if we all wear a mask, the virus would have nowhere to go,” she said.
“Our older community has really embraced the social distancing and mask-wearing. The challenge that we are seeing really is in the area of growth of young adults who may potentially bring it back to our older community,” said Joseph Pepe, a health officer with the Florida Department of Health Charlotte County.
The mandate is for indoor public places where social distancing may not be possible, such as restaurants, retail stores, and government buildings.
The emergency ordinance exempts children under two, people unable to wear one for health reasons, and states that masks can be taken off for people to eat.
“I don’t see the harm in it. I think it is doing exactly what we’ve been asking people to do all along,” Pepe said.
It will be up to code inspectors and police to enforce the mandate, which also applies to students at schools within city limits. Violators could receive a warning or fine of $25 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense, and $250 for the third offense and thereafter.
“There’s nothing to prevent us, as I understand it, from enforcing it within the schools,” said City Attorney David Levin.
Not everyone is on board with the mandate. Jesse Bennett said she’ll take her chances.
“If there is somewhere I have to attend, yes, I will take the fine,” she said.
Council members said local business owners requested the mandate, which is in effect for 90 days but can be repealed at any point or extended with a resolution.
Here’s who’s exempt, according to the ordinance:
- Children under the age of two (2) years;
- Persons observing social distancing;
- Persons for whom a face covering would cause impairment due to an existing health condition or for whom compliance with the mandatory requirements imposed herein would conflict with the Americans with Disabilities Act;
- Persons communicating with an individual who is hearing impaired who needs to see the mouth of the person speaking to facilitate communication;
- Persons while working in a business or profession who do not have interactions with other persons;
- Persons while working in a business or profession where use of a face covering would prevent them from performing the duties of the business or profession;
- Persons exercising, while maintaining social distancing;
- Persons while eating or drinking, provided they are maintaining social distancing. It is the intent of this provision that a face covering must be worn while traversing an Indoor Public Place for ingress and egress, when walking to and from restroom facilities, and while standing when unable to maintain social distancing;
- Public safety, fire and other life safety or health care personnel, as their personal protective equipment requirements will be governed by their respective agencies or employers;
- Persons who are engaged in obtaining a service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of a face covering is necessary to perform the service;
- Persons engaged in an activity where some other form of face covering is required pursuant to the regulations of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Watch the meeting: