Social media trends claim you can challenge masks mandates if you have medical condition
The “In Your Face” mask challenge designed as a way around mask mandates is making its way around social media.
Sanibel police say a gun rights internet activist challenged their laws. Now, others are doing the same.
WINK News Reporter Breana Ross spoke to business owners and lawyers to see how they felt and what legally can be done.
“I think that if you own an establishment and you have the general public in mind, I think it’s very reasonable to ask to wear the mask,” said David Allen, a Sanibel visitor.
But on Saturday, the request to wear a mask led to the police getting involved.
A police report says that a group entered the Lazy Flamingo Restaurant on Sanibel without masks. Officers who happened to be eating at the restaurant say the situation escalated when the group was asked to put on masks. Officers explained that the restaurant can refuse service to those without a mask under the city’s ordinance.
“I think even if you like it or not, masks are a must,” said JP Pfeifer, a Sanibel visitor.
Police said the group then claimed they had medical conditions to prevent them from wearing masks. They say a woman named Kaitlin Bennett, who is a social media gun rights activist, was recording the exchange.
“I think they really enforce the mask mandate as far as that goes,” said Johnathan McGrath.
A member of their group said they went to the Blue Giraffe restaurant instead. Employees there offered them free masks but the group again refused, stating they had medical conditions. They were refused service there too.
The group posted on social media, bashing the restaurants and accusing staff at Blue Giraffe of threatening to spit in their food.
Regulars of both restaurants say the staff was just trying to keep everyone safe and abide by the rules.
“I just feel bad that the businesses have to enforce that. It’s bad for them because they have to be the bad guy when somebody’s not complying,” McGrath said.
WINK News reached out to Benett for comment and didn’t hear back. A friend who was with her at the time said they were looking for restaurants after a boat parade in support of President Donald Trump when this happened.
The Blue Giraffe denies that employees threatened to spit in food.
WINK News spoke to a lawyer who said some parts of enforcement of the mask mandate are still muddy, including whether or not a customer is being discriminated against due to a medical condition or whether customers have to prove they have a disability.
Statement from Kaitlin Bennett/Liberty Hangout spokesperson:
“After attending a Trump boat parade in Fort Myers, Kaitlin Bennett and our team were looking for a place to eat on Sanibel Island. Our team visited the Lazy Flamingo and were denied service for not having masks, by a man who was wearing his mask below his nose. The restaurant got the police involved who proceeded to ask for our team’s medical papers. The city ordinance that the restaurant was attempting to enforce (Proclamation 20-040) expired on July 7th*, more than two months ago. The ordinance, while in effect, had allowed medical exemptions to the mask mandate.
“After being refused service, our team looked for another restaurant in the area and came across the Blue Giraffe. Kaitlin and our team were again told they couldn’t eat without masks on. After Kaitlin’s husband Justin said, “Now I have to feel like you guys are going to spit in our food,” the restaurant owner Geoffrey Letendre responded, “Well then that’s the way you have to feel.” Our team left and ate comfortably at a restaurant in Fort Myers.
“The following is a written statement provided to me by Liberty Hangout’s public relations team.”
Liberty Hangout LLC
*The Sanibel ordinance requiring face coverings in public establishments remains in effect until Sept. 15, but may again be extended.