Punta Gorda upholds mask mandate during special meeting on Phase 3 reopening

Reporter: Erika Jackson Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

The Punta Gorda City Council unanimously voted Wednesday to maintain its mask mandate but not enforce it during a special meeting to discuss what should be done about the mandate and other Phase 3 concerns.

On Sept. 25, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended COVID-19-related fines and penalties aimed at individuals. Punta Gorda says it hasn’t issued anyone a fine for not wearing a mask indoors, and the governor’s executive order means it could stay that way.

Businesses, however, still have the right to require masks and turn away customers who try to enter without one.

“When you have the word ‘mandate,’ you’re still telling people ‘you have to, you have to’; no, you don’t have to,” said Jesse Bennett, who lives in Charlotte Ranchettes in Punta Gorda.

City leaders point to the older population. More than half of the residents in Punta Gorda are over 65, which puts them at a higher risk for complications from the virus. Leaders still encourage mask-wearing to keep your neighbors safe.

“We should take one day at a time and enjoy it,” said Adeline Seakwood of Punta Gorda Isles.

Lawyer and Florida Gulf Coast University law professor Pam Seay says the new order gives people the power to make their own choices when it comes to wearing a mask.

“This eliminates that individual change from one locale to another, so I think that’s a very positive step,” Seay said. “It puts everyone on the same level and on the same playing field, so that ‘I don’t get a fine in this county, but I would in that county’… it doesn’t make sense.”

She also said, however, the order doesn’t take away a city’s ability to mandate mask-wearing, as it does allow local restrictions provided they can be justified to the state.

“The average age in Punta Gorda is higher than most of the other surrounding communities,” Seay said. “If the city of Punta Gorda chooses to protect its older population, they can do so. The explanation back to the state would be ‘Our population is more elderly than most others, therefore we want these protections in place.'”

Seay says cities and counties thus can keep their mask mandates in place as long as they aren’t fining individuals.

The city’s new ordinance mirrors Charlotte County’s mask resolution.

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