Punta Gorda mask mandate extended to Nov. 6

The Punta Gorda City Council voted Wednesday to extend the city’s mask mandate another 30 days.

The council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance in July that mandated masks in indoor public places where social distancing may not be possible, such as restaurants, retail stores and government buildings. Businesses were encouraged to hang signs reminding shoppers to cover up in an effort to keep everyone safe.

The mandate will remain in effect until Nov. 6 – 30 days from Oct. 6, the date the ordinance was set to expire. City leaders will meet again in a couple of weeks to discuss any further extensions.

“I think it’s the best thing city council ever did. I think it really cut down on the numbers and I applaud them for doing it,” said Kathy Leitsch of Punta Gorda Isles.

“I feel that people should be given the right, though,” said Richard Strelchuk of Punta Gorda.

Good friends Leitsch and Strelchuck agree to disagree on whether the city should mandate masks in public.

“If they don’t wanna wear a mask and practice social distancing, then that is acceptable too,” Strelchuk said.

“Some people just won’t do it…and they have to be told to do it,” Leitsch said.

Most people WINK News spoke with on Wednesday in Punta Gorda are tired of wearing masks but say they understand face coverings, along with handwashing and social distancing, allow us to return to something resembling a normal life, so the majority agree with the council’s call to extend its mask mandate another 30 days.

Lorraine Holden, who’s visiting from Maryland, said that seeing people in masks makes her feel safe.

“It’s a contagious condition and it protects me when everyone is wearing a mask,” she said.

But Strelchuk is about done with the debate. He worries more about people’s mental health.

“When you’re going to the store, it feels like you have leprosy. I mean, people look at you like you’re infected. They don’t want to be by you and that just takes the human part out of our society.”

Business owners who spoke with WINK News said they’re OK with it.

The doors stayed closed at Tiki’s Boutique and Carrie’s Interiors for months during Florida’s safer-at-home order. The two businesses are open now and business is starting to recover.

Sales clerk Sondra Bergstrom credits Punta Gorda’s mask mandate. “People need to make a living. People need to work. So, if wearing a mask will help reduce transmission, that’s what we want people to do.”

She said the store hasn’t had any problems with people not wearing masks, and neither has nearby Wildwood Pizza.

“The small businesses are what really is the driving force in the economy right now. If there’s an understanding of what needs to be happening, people will follow and these will be good things ultimately,” said Michael Barone, owner of Wildwood.

He approved of the council’s move to extend the mandate.

“Our patrons are wearing masks when they come in, and when they leave, they can take their masks off outside, they can do what they like. We asked that they wear a mask in here and we’re trying to be as responsible as possible and so far, so good.”

In fact, Bergrstom said she would have liked to see the council push the mandate to the end of the year.

“I think that hopefully after the first of the year, we’ll have a safe vaccine but I suspect that we will be wearing masks for who knows.”

According to the ordinance, exemptions include:

  • Children under the age of two (2) years;
  • Persons observing social distancing;
  • Persons for whom a face covering would cause impairment due to an existing health condition or for whom compliance with the mandatory requirements imposed herein would conflict with the Americans with Disabilities Act;
  • Persons communicating with an individual who is hearing impaired who needs to see the mouth of the person speaking to facilitate communication;
  • Persons while working in a business or profession who do not have interactions with other persons;
  • Persons while working in a business or profession where use of a face covering would prevent them from performing the duties of the business or profession;
  • Persons exercising, while maintaining social distancing;
  • Persons while eating or drinking, provided they are maintaining social distancing. It is the intent of this provision that a face covering must be worn while traversing an Indoor Public Place for ingress and egress, when walking to and from restroom facilities, and while standing when unable to maintain social distancing;
  • Public safety, fire and other life safety or health care personnel, as their personal protective equipment requirements will be governed by their respective agencies or employers;
  • Persons who are engaged in obtaining a service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of a face covering is necessary to perform the service;
  • Persons engaged in an activity where some other form of face covering is required pursuant to the regulations of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
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