by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Sanibel City Council voted 3-1 Tuesday to require a face covering be worn in places of businesses and public accommodations effective Friday, July 3, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The island had four new positive cases in the past seven days, according to the Florida Department of Health, which brought the total to 17 cases since March.
Vice Mayor Mick Denham, who chaired the special meeting in the absence of Mayor Kevin Ruane, said he is “alarmed” by the number of people in businesses not wearing a mask. They are “necessary step in preventing the spread of this disease any further,” he said.
In areas where COVID-19 is spreading, health experts agree that wearing masks or other face coverings in public helps reduce the risk of spreading the virus when people can’t really socially distance by staying six feet apart.
The coronavirus mainly spreads through droplets that are emitted when people talk, laugh, sing, cough or sneeze. Masks lower the likelihood of those droplets reaching other people. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you could be carrying the virus and spread it.
In May, council voted 3-2 against mandating masks in public despite hundreds of citizen’s requests to do so. Denham, along with council members Holly Smith and Richard Johnson, was looking for people to take personal responsibility in wearing a mask, but that did not seem to be happening.
Councilman Jason Maughan voted against the mandate on Tuesday, saying he wished to follow Governor Ron DeSantis’ and Lee County Board of County Commissioners’ decisions to leave wearing a mask a matter of personal choice. He expects personal responsibility from citizens and wants them to regulate themselves, not spend time regulating others.
“You need to make decisions based on what you believe is right and not have the government compel people to do things you may not have the civic courage to do yourself,” said Maughan in his dissent.
The city’s mandate states, in part, individuals are required to wear a face covering inside most businesses or public spaces with the main exception of places of religious worship. A face covering is not required outdoors when proper social distancing can be practiced, such as at the beach, on the shared use path or playing golf. (Read the full list here.)
Violators of the mandate are subject to fines of $50 per violation. The city is encouraging businesses or other places of public accommodations to post signage, which can be obtained from the city free of charge, and adopt a “no mask, no service” policy to facilitate enforcement.
“Wearing a mask when you can’t socially distance is a proven way to help get the virus numbers down in every community in the United States and around the world,” said island resident Arlene Dillon, who has been among those advocating for a mask mandate.
“I am grateful to the Sanibel City Council for protecting our businesses and citizens, and for taking a major step in keeping us all safe,” said Dillon.