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Cape punts decision on masks

By Staff | Jul 2, 2020

On a day when Florida logged an additional 10,000-plus cases of the COVID-19 virus — setting another record — dozens of local residents turned out to have their say on whether Cape Coral City Council should require masks to be worn in the municipality.

In the end, after one council member had to leave the dais and another left the meeting remotely, resulting in a lack of quorum, the special meeting held Thursday was continued to Monday, July 6, at 4:30 p.m. in council chambers.

The meeting will reopen public input and hear updated information on the virus from the weekend with the emergency ordinance then expected to come to a vote.

For the measure to mandate masks to pass, it will require a supermajority of six votes, something that eventually came lacking Thursday night after Councilmember Jennifer Nelson had to leave, leaving only five council members with just three at the dais. Councilmember Rick Williams, attending remotely, also had to leave the meeting.

The ordinance was brought forward by Mayor Joe Coviello, who said he is looking for a way to protect residents while in public without crippling the economy with another lockdown.

As tendered, the ordinance would require that people wear a face covering, such as a mask, while in a business establishment.

Exceptions would include children under age 6, those with breathing issues, people exercising while social distancing, restaurant patrons while eating or drinking, and first responders, who are governed by their respective agencies.

Public health experts from Lee Health made their cases for wearing masks, saying it would greatly reduce the chance of infecting of others.

“Masks are important to protect ourselves and those around you. It’s the main source control from preventing others from contracting it,” said Dr. Mary Saunders, medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology with Lee Health.

The theme delivered by many who came was “give me liberty or give me death” in one of the most raucous meetings at City Hall in years. Many who were against the ordinance gave a multitude of reasons to shoot it down, from lack of oxygen intake from masks to the impugnment of individual liberty, to well, other things.

One woman, wearing a Q-anon T-shirt, said they were violating God’s law and that she wouldn’t be a puppet, even saying that it was them who paid for the “riots” (protests) that have occurred nationally over the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Another woman, her face completely covered by a wig, called a speaker before her who supported masks a socialist and asked if mandatory microchips would be next and that we were one step away from tyranny.

One supporter, Jordan Lindsey (who wore a mask), approved of the ordinance and said he lost two uncles from the virus.

“We have no choice. We need to do this before more people are endangered and it forces businesses to close again,” Lindsey said. “Places that mandate masks have a lower rate of transmission.”

Things got so heated that Coviello called a recess to calm things down.

When the meeting resumed, Williams left the meeting and Nelson said she wasn’t able to stay much longer.

A long line of people waiting to speak remained in the hallway. Another 300 or so had submitted input via email.

It was suggested the meeting be continued to July 20, the first regular meeting after hiatus. Councilmember John Carioscia disagreed.

“This issue is too important for it to wait two and a half weeks. We need to do this as quickly as possible,” Carioscia said, suggesting the continuance to Monday.

Councilmember John Gunter, meanwhile, expressed his unhappiness with Williams tapping out another meeting, presumably due to technical problems from his location. Indeed, his one comment on the ordinance was nearly impossible to understand.

Gunter, though, said his inability to take part in a whole meeting has become a habit since the pandemic and asked for a vote to direct Williams to explain himself.

Council took on action on the motion, which came as there was another motion on the floor.

The meeting will be at City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.

The city of Sanibel and Town of Fort Myers Beach each passed emergency mask ordinances this week with the Sanibel Council also voting to close city-owned parking lots at island beaches through the weekend to those who do not have a resident parking sticker.