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Collier County commissioners pass mask mandate after heated public input

Collier County commissioners passed a mask mandate Tuesday by a vote of 3-2 during an emergency meeting to reconsider last week’s failed ordinance.

Commissioner Penny Taylor, who on July 14 voted against the mandate, requested the board reconsider requiring face coverings in public places, such as government buildings and businesses.

The mandate goes into effect immediately and runs through Sept. 3, but could be extended. It applies only to unincorporated Collier County but any municipality inside the county can opt in. WINK News asked Marco Island, Naples and Everglades City if they have any plans to discuss a mandate. Marco and Naples said they don’t, and we have not heard back from Everglades City.

Much like the July 14 meeting, dozens upon dozens of people showed up to express their opinions on the issue.

“Doctors, the health community that fights for us, they’re wearing masks,” said resident Charles Blun.

“You’re selling out to corporate interests!” one commenter yelled at commissioners.

Emotions ran high on both sides of the debate, including for Jessica Morares, who lost her uncle to COVID-19 last month. She said she hopes the mask mandate will help slow the spread of the virus.

“It was long overdue but I’m glad to see that there is some compassion and empathy,” she said.

Some argued it comes too late.

“You don’t wear masks four months into a pandemic. That is like wearing a condom to the baby shower,” said one woman.

Others were angry that Taylor called the emergency meeting after voting it down last week.

“I think it’s a joke. I think we already made the decision multiple times,” said John Melton.

A family we spoke to is happy to see the action made by commissioner, since the pandemic has affected them very personally.

“A family member of ours is basically on his death bed right now as we speak,” Marline Prieto said. “And I think it is very important to wear it to avoid your family getting hit by this.”

This mask mandate is a relief for the Prieto family.

“It’s very hard for us to deal with it at this time,” Prieto said.

“Until it hits home, people don’t understand,” Manuel Prieto said. “A lot of people are not wearing it, and it’s like they aren’t following the severity of the issue.”

Still, others feel like it should be their own decision to wear one.

“Everyone has a right to stay home and stay quarantined,” Mark Sklyrov said. “And there’s nothing wrong with that either, but I feel like we should enjoy our liberties.”

The mandate was first discussed and failed to pass by a 3-2 vote on July 14. Commissioners cited enforcement as a reason for not passing the ordinance, but enforcement now will fall to code enforcement officers, and violators face a fine of up to $500.

Taylor voted against it on July 14 but voted in favor of the mandate at Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioners Andy Solis and Burt Saunders also voted in favor, as they did at the previous discussion, while Commissioners Bill McDaniel and Donna Fiala again voted against it.

Who’s exempt:

  • Children nine years of age and younger;
  • Places of worship;
  • Restaurant and bar customers or patrons while dining and/or consuming beverages while seated at the table or bar;
  • Gym patrons working out or in a class where at least 6 feet of distancing exists with the next closest patron;
  • Barbershop or beauty salon customers or patrons when wearing a face covering would “reasonably interfere” with services;
  • Business owners, managers and employees who are in an area of a business that is not open to the public, provided that 6 feet of distance exists between employees. This exception does not apply to employees who are present in the kitchen or other areas where food and beverages are prepared in a restaurant or food establishment.; and
  • Guests inside their hotel room, motel room, vacation rental unit, timeshare unit or similar unit.

The ordinance states that people with a medical condition or disability who are unable to wear a mask are exempt from the mandate, but it will be up to individual businesses to decide whether that person is allowed inside the business. If they aren’t, the business must accommodate that person in another way, such as curbside service or delivery.

Also in the ordinance, it states that violators who are exempt from being fined include children under nine, a person with a disability or other medical condition that prevents wearing a face covering, a person obtaining a service involving the nose or face
for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service, or a person who works in a profession where the use of a face covering will not be compatible with the duties of the profession.

The county said that $25,000 of CARES Act proceeds will be used to educate businesses, to adequately inform all businesses of the ordinance and supply mask mandate signage.

We reached out to the Naples and Marco Island to see if they will opt in to the ordinance as well. Both municipalities said, right now, they do not have it on their agenda to discuss. We reached out to Everglades City and are waiting for a response.

Reporter:Gina Tomlinson
Taylor Smith
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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