Employees at any business in Lakeland may ask customers to briefly remove their face masks to verify identification under an exception to Lakeland’s mask rules approved today by the City Commission.

Commissioners made last-minute changes to a proposed exception that originally had addressed only banks and other financial institutions.

The city has had an indoor mask-up rule in effect since July 2 in an attempt to slow spread of the novel coronavirus. The resolution comes up for renewal every month and on Oct. 5 commissioners will consider whether to renew it into a fourth month.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden said that she understands the security issue at financial institutions but “I am wondering about convenience stores where employees may need to see a face for security.” And, she said, she is concerned about situations when shop owners and employees may need to identify a customer to feel safe.

Commissioner Scott Franklin, who had requested the exception for banks, said he could see situations when an employee may need to ask a customer to de-mask to verify identify, “such as at Publix when a customer wants to buy beer.”

The city requires masks that meet national CDC guidelines and cover the mouth and nose be worn indoors except in homes when social distancing isn’t possible.

There already are 12 exceptions, including:

  • People who are social distancing the recommended six feet from those who are not family members or companions
  • People who are eating or drinking
  • Children under 8
  • People who work in a business or profession who maintain social distance from others
  • People who work in a business or profession in which they do not interact with others
  • People who work in a profession or business that a face mask would prevent them from performing their duties
  • Health and fire-safety professionals using safety equipment governed by their respective agencies
  • People with health conditions that preclude facial coverings
  • People communicating with a person who is hearing impaired provided social distancing is maintained as much as possible
  • People for whom requiring a face mask would conflict with the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • People who are exercising while maintaining social distances
  • * Youths under 18 participating in sports

The six commissioners present at Monday’s meeting were wearing masks although the masks would not have been required since they were spaced 6 feet apart. Their behavior illustrated some of the issues people have with masks.

Commissioner Phillip Walker was wearing his mask below his nose for part of the meeting. Commissioner Madden’s mask was loose and kept slipping below her nose and sometimes below her mouth as she struggled to keep it in place, repeatedly pulling it up.

During the Sept. 8 meeting, commissioners – who at that time were meeting via teleconference – narrowly approved extending the mask rules until Oct. 5 after listening to 14 people urging them to reject the resolution and 10 people urging them to renew it.

At the time, Mayor Bill Mutz and others voting to keep the mask regulation in effect until Oct. 5 said they want to see the rate of COVID-positive tests be below 5 percent for two weeks.

During the last two weeks, the positivity rate in Polk County has hovered near 5 percent, sometimes below and sometimes above it.

Graphic: City of Lakeland

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