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Collier County Commissioners Approve Mandatory Mask Ordinance

Collier County Commissioners Adopt Mandatory Mask Ordinance
Collier County Facebook Page
Collier County Commissioners Adopt Mandatory Mask Ordinance

During an emergency meeting, Tuesday, Collier County Commissioners passed a mandatory mask ordinance that takes effect immediately.

Commissioners reversed course from their vote last week against a mandatory face covering amid the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases and voted in favor an ordinance requiring people to wear face coverings in businesses, non-profits and in most other public buildings in unincorporated portions of Collier County.
The emergency ordinance passed on a 3-2 vote after Commissioner Penny Taylor reversed her decision from last week’s vote.

Commissioner Andy Solis and Commission Chair Burt Saunders again voted in favor of the ordinance and commissioners Donna Fiala and William McDaniel, Jr. maintained their opposition.
The vote followed several hours of often impassioned public comment from people both for and against, including Collier County Democratic Party Chairwoman Annisa Karim, who urged commissioners to support the ordinance even it will be difficult to enforce.

“We have many policies that are extremely difficult to enforce, but these policies like ‘no littering, no speeding, no public urination,’ these policies set a standard for our community,” said Karim.

“So today, your ‘yes’ vote will signal to the county and the country that you respect science and that you care for your citizens.”

Enforcement of the ordinance falls primarily on businesses and on County Code Enforcement, which Commission Chair Burt Saunders said means enforcement will be largely complaint driven.

The order does include exceptions including inside restaurant customers while they are eating, gym patrons while working out and practicing social distancing, patrons of barber shops and salons under certain conditions and employees working in non-public portions of a business as long as they are practicing social distancing and are not preparing food.

The ordinance also does not apply to children under nine years old and specifically excludes places of worship.
Among those who spoke out against the ordinance is owner and CEO of the retail business “Its For The Birds,” Maryann Fitzpatrick.

“You expect me, a 64-year-old woman, working along, with no training and no backup to be your frontline, to physically prevent entry by any person not wearing a mask. You are placing me and hundreds like me in an untenable position,” said Fitzpatrick.

“As written, this ordinance contains criminal penalties if I am unwilling or unable to enforce it. I maintain you don’t have the right to force me to choose to become a criminal and risking serious injury. You don’t have the right to expect me, a shop owner, to assume the role of cop.”

The ordinance places enforcement responsibility on business owners, operators and employees with fines that could go up to $500 for multiple subsequent violations. Commissioner Taylor addressed Fitzpatrick’s public testimony by asking if local business owners could apply for reimbursement through the Federal CARES Act to cover the cost of security, should a business owner find it necessary.

County Manager Leo Ochs confirmed that the cost of security to enforce a mask ordinance falls under federal reimbursement costs businesses can apply for.

After passing the mask mandate, commissioners approved spending up to $25,000 on efforts to educate business owners about the new mandate and to provide them with signage to inform customers.

Commissioner William McDaniel, the only commissioner physically present at the meeting who was not wearing a mask, attempted to delay the vote further, citing what he says is a lack of data.

“I would suggest that we continue this item. We come back next week, deploy our staff, get a report to our county attorney with regard to the legality of such, get a report from our staff in regard to the case counts, the hospitalizations and the fatalities from the communities in Florida that have already had face masks in for quite some time.”

But Commission Chair Saunders said evidence of the efficacy of masks in slowing community spread of the virus is clear.
“I think one of the things we can do is learn from the experience of other countries that began wearing masks very early on and have been able to suppress the spread of this virus, they’ve been able to open their economies much more effectively,” said Saunders.

“So I think one of the things that we’ve learned is that wearing a mask, it’s an inconvenience, but it’s one that in the long run, potentially, could slow the spread, stop the spread, and permit us to grow our economy much more quickly than if we simply let this virus continue to spread.”

Collier’s new mandatory mask ordinance only covers unincorporated portions of the county, but it does include an ‘opt in’ for Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City if approved by local officials in those municipalities.

The ordinance sunsets at midnight Sept. 3, unless commissioners decide to extend it further.

Collier’s mask ordinance comes as major retailers including Publix, Walmart, the Kroger Co., Kohls and others have begun to adopt their own mandatory face covering policies for customers.

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