City Offers Resolution in Fight to Prevent COVID-19 Spread

City commissioners are planning to approve a resolution urging Lakeland residents to take precautions against COVID-19, a move that Commissioner Stephanie Madden said should show people that “our City Commission and our city is serious about this.”

The resolution, which commissioners are expected to approve on Tuesday, “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.

Acknowledging he’s in a minority of one, interim Commissioner Don Selvage said today when commissioners previewed the resolution that it “falls short of what we should be doing as leaders.”

“Really, how good is another resolution?” he asked at one point. “Requiring people to wear masks for the next 100 days is what we should do,” he said at another point.

Selvage said he feels a mask requirement would back up businesses and their employees in being able to convince patrons to wear masks. His position got no support from the other commissioners.

“I would not support anything that affected businesses in a negative fashion,” Madden said.

“I would not support any penalties for businesses,” Commissioner Chad McLeod said.

Commissioners Sara McCarley, Bill Read and Phillip Walker added they feel similarly, with McCarley noting that places like California with strict requirements are still seeing COVID-19 cases peaking.

Mayor Bill Mutz said a renewed mask requirement may become necessary in the future, especially if organizations use the city’s resolution to justify changes, but the number of new COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate of testing continue to rise.

Mutz said the resolution encourages people to be motivated “by conscientiousness instead of comfort.” Its 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 resolution 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 on Monday 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.

Lakeland Regional Health on Thursday reported that it was treating 219 COVID-19 patients, its highest number ever.

At Watson Clinic, visits to urgent care clinics were 80% higher last month than the previous December, Managing Partner Dr. Steven G. Achinger told commissioners on Monday. Doctors, nurses and staff are holding up under the strain, but it’s not sustainable, he said.

While the rate of COVID-19 tests that come back positive in Polk County has stayed above 10% for several weeks — a rate below 5% is seen as a sign that the virus isn’t spreading — Mutz reported this morning that Thursday’s update from the Florida Department of Health was 9.87% for the first time since Christmas.

The city’s resolution, if passed, would expire on April 19 unless the commission extends it. The commission earlier had discussed making the resolution effective until the end of March, but the date was moved later because of concerns that the virus might spread during spring breaks for schools and colleges, Mutz said.

Commissioner Bill Read wondered aloud at this morning’s meeting whether the resolution would expire before the annual Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo takes place. The answer: It doesn’t. Sun ‘n Fun is scheduled for April 13-18 at Lakeland Linder International Airport.

Madden emphasized that the resolution “affords people to go with their comfort level” and claimed it gives organizations guidelines on holding events.

“Commissioner Read mentioned Sun ‘n Fun. We cannot afford to lose another spring season,” she said. “That’s our Christmas for Florida — the tourism season. We cannot afford to lose that without really consequential financial consequences.”

The resolution, Madden said, tells events organizers that the city recommends that CDC rules be followed and empowers them to require masks and social distancing.

The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority has already cancelled its planned First Friday events for February and March, citing requests from local health care leaders to avoid unmasked gatherings. Mutz said the organization will continue holding its Saturday Downtown Farmers Curb Market because people stay for shorter times.

Lakeland commissioners approved three one-month mask mandates last summer but took no action to extend the last one past Oct. 6 after Gov. Ron DeSantis removed local government’s ability to fine mask violators.

Some nearby jurisdictions, including Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, subsequently passed mask requirements that penalize the businesses that allow offenses, not the individuals who remain unmasked.

The proposed city resolution:

Video: Today’s commission disucssion

Agenda Study & Committees 01-15-2021 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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