by SC Reporter Reese Holiday
In order to get more people wearing masks on the island, Mayor Mick Denham and the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce teamed up for a Mayor’s Mask Challenge to promote safety while also having fun.
The goal of the challenge is to create a unique mask that can compete to win a $200 prize, which is funded by Denahm and the Chamber. Two winners, one from Sanibel and one from Captiva, will be chosen at the end of December, January and February, leaving $400 in prizes each month. Winners will be chosen by Denham and the Chamber’s executive board at the end of each competition month.
Any employee, resident or guest of Sanibel and Captiva can participate by sending a picture of themselves wearing their decorated mask in one of the island’s businesses. Entries are submitted to the Chamber’s Instagram or Facebook page using #mayorsmaskchallenge or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. With already half a dozen entries, Chamber President and CEO John Lai said wearing masks is the important part, but the challenge is also to make it fun.
“We really wanted to do something that not only accentuated the importance of wearing a mask, but also made it fun,” Lai said. “We didn’t want visitors to come and see it as a burden, but maybe as an opportunity to showcase their talents and showcase their crafts.”
Participants can send in as many photos as they wish but cannot submit the same mask for more than one month. While employees can participate, business owners and employees of the city and Chamber are ineligible. The challenge is optional, but the city’s mask mandate requires all island residents and visitors to wear a mask while indoors at public spaces.
Before coming up with the challenge, Denham said he was trying to find ways to combat rising COVID-19 cases on Sanibel. The Florida Department of Health daily report released Friday, Dec. 11 showed the island had a cumulative 101 cases, including a record high of 28 in November, since the first case was reported in March. Now, Denham wants to lighten the tone around wearing masks, something he said has been drilled into the heads of citizens.
“I believe the heavy tone has caused a number of people to opt out of wearing masks, and personal freedom being one of the reasons,” Denham said. “I thought a different approach to this very serious problem to get a greater number of people to wear a mask while lighting up the message.”
Although the challenge is meant to be light-hearted, Denham said the importance of wearing masks cannot be overstated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, masks are meant to protect others, preventing the spread of respiratory droplets possibly containing the virus. With this, Lai added that the science behind masks proves they are effective, but not without everyone wearing one.
“We can very easily say that we want to protect everyone, but if we’re not asking our guests and visitors to wear masks, then we’re putting our employees at risk,” Lai said. “And if we’re asking our visitors and guests to wear masks but not our employees, then we’re putting our visitors and guests at risk.”
With Sanibel’s tourism season coming up, Denham noted the timing of the challenge worked out well. In the next few months, an influx of visitors, with differing COVID experiences, will come to the island from all over the country. Lai said while they don’t want to “rule with an iron fist,” the city wants to make sure guests are aware of the mask rules, especially with COVID-19 spikes across the country.
“We know a lot of our residents who come down and stay throughout the wintertime, and have winter homes here, are coming from markets that don’t have mask mandates, so this is still something they’re getting used to,” Lai said. “It’s also something we know they’re coming from areas that maybe are spiking greater than we are.”
Denahm and the Chamber hope to create a buzz around the challenge, making it popular to wear creative masks. Denham said every business he has spoken to has been attempting to enforce masks and wants the challenge to help that effort. Lai added that if businesses get involved and make it fun for employees, then they in turn will spread the idea to guests and customers, promoting safety on the islands.
“We really are hoping every single business will make this fun, make it something they’re servers, it you’re a restaurant, participate in,” Lai said. “If you are a retail space, your employees participate in and they in turn encourage their guests, visitors and customers to be excited about it too.”
Along with his mask challenge, Denham has explored many other ways of promoting mask wearing. Earlier this month, Denham and his fellow council members had a sign put up right at Sanibel’s entry on Causeway Boulevard that reads “Welcome to Sanibel. Wear a Mask.” While it is uncertain whether the sign or the challenge will work, Denham said for the safety of the islands, it’s worth a try. “It can’t do any harm,” he said.