City commissioners approved a resolution late Tuesday night urging Lakeland residents to wear masks and take other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The vote was unanimous following the urging of Commissioner Don Selvage, who acknowledged he doesn’t think the measure goes far enough but suggested the commission show a united front.

The action came at 10 p.m. after commissioners had already been meeting for seven hours. It generated little discussion from commissioners and only one comment from a member of the public: a scolding from a disabilities advocate who said the city is doing nothing to help people who face public scorn when they decline to wear face coverings in public because of health or emotional issues.

The resolution “recommends and urges in the strongest possible terms” that residents and businesses practice social distancing, use virtual meeting technology, wear face coverings, and practice hand hygiene.

Read the full text here or at the end of this article.

Mayor Bill Mutz acknowledged the city may have to take stronger steps later: “It behooves us to do this first and if we find that the numbers continue to rise and we don’t get quite the response that we would hope from people, which I hope is not the case, then there’s always an opportunity to re-address this later knowing we tried another route.”

Mutz had earlier said he would urge commissioners to mandate masks, as they did last summer, if the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests Polk County remained above 10% for at least 14 days.-

The rate has been above 10% for 18 of the last 22 days, according to reports from the Florida Department of Health.

Asked by News Channel 8 why he didn’t propose a mask mandate, Mutz responded, “I can’t pass anything without the commission’s approval. A mandate won’t pass at this point.”

News Channel 8 report filed before the commission vote:

Indeed, when Selvage urged the passage of a mask requirement at two different commission meetings last week, he got no takers.

On the other end, Commissioner Bill Read tried on Friday and again on Monday to have the word “require” removed from the resolution in a phrase that urges businesses to require employees and customers to wear face coverings.

The word “require” sounds like a mandate, Read said. Mutz responded that the operative word is “urge” in a previous phrase where the city “recommends and urges in the strongest possible terms…”

The resolution urges residents, businesses and organizations to:

  • Practice social distancing, including avoiding large gatherings and holding virtual meetings.
  • Wear face covering indoors when social distancing isn’t practical and consider wearing face covering at large outdoor gatherings.
  • Wash hands often or use hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Recognize that the virus is spread in non-public settings and take precautions against infecting others or becoming infected.
  • For businesses, follow CDC guidelines in requiring employees and customers to wear face coverings except for health reasons or when safety is jeopardized.

The document says there are no civil or criminal penalties, but adds: “This appeal is a solemn call for citizens and businesses to put aside convenience in order to pursue a moral mandate of conscientiousness amidst a very atypical time.”

Commissioners asked City Attorney Palmer Davis to draft the resolution last week after they heard from three local health leaders that community spread of COVID-19 is stretching their staffs thin and endangering their ability to continue providing quality care.

Selvage said he hopes the city’s action will prompt the Polk County Commission and other cities in the county “to get the word out to encourage masks very strongly.”

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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