Commission to Consider Mandatory Masks for Lakeland

On a day when Florida broke a record for new COVID-19 cases and Polk County reported 100-plus cases for a second day in a row, Mayor Bill Mutz today called a special meeting of the City Commission for Monday to discuss mandating face masks in public places.

“The anticipated goal, if passed, will be to have a mask mandate become effective by 6 p.m. or midnight the same day,” Mutz wrote in an email to members of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce’s Reopen Lakeland Task Force, which he chairs.

Mask mandates have been activated this week in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orlando/Orange County. They differ in scope, but generally apply to people in buildings outside the home. The St. Petersburg order applies to employees at businesses but not their customers.

Mutz’ email did not specify who a Lakeland mandate might apply to or where it would apply.

The Reopen Lakeland Task Force met Friday and discussed mandating masks but decided to push voluntary compliance over any mandates, Mutz told LkldNow following the meeting. But he also said that continued increases in cases might force a mandate, declaring relying on voluntary measures “will be relatively short lived if the numbers keep rising.”

In today’s email to task force members, Mutz said, “The growing concern expressed at our Friday meeting underscored the need to provide more enforcement capability for business owners through a potential governmental mask mandate. Meanwhile, the positive test rates continue to climb and the healthcare system is even more alarmed.”

The special City Commission will be held at 9 a.m. Monday via GotoMeeting, a virtual meeting platform similar to Zoom.

Members of the public will be able to watch the meeting live online or on cable channels Spectrum 643 or FiOS 43. A call-in code will be provided for audience participation, according to the city spokesman Kevin Cook.

Today’s COVID-19 update from the Florida Department of Health revealed that the state recorded 4,049 new cases, breaking a record set Friday, and 40 deaths.

In Polk County, 114 new cases were reported today after Friday’s count of 154 set a record. The previous high daily count had been 68, the number reported on both Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

There was one new death and four new hospitalizations in Polk County in today’s report.

LkldNow’s other local COVID-19 charts have also been updated with today’s numbers and can be seen on our COVID-19 page.

In response to rising COVID-19 cases, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor ordered masks be worn in all indoor locations outside the home when people can’t maintain six-foot separations. The order took effect within Tampa city limits at 5 p.m. Friday.

In St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman on Wednesday required businesses to have their employees wear masks.

In Orange County, Mayor Jerry Demings ordered people to wear masks outside the home except when exercising; the order takes effect today. The Orange County order applies within Orlando, that city’s mayor said.

Unlike mayors in municipalities such as Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orange County, which have strong-mayor forms of government, Lakeland’s mayor is unable to enact an order without a majority vote of the commission.

Osceola County, which borders Polk on the east, has had a mask order in effect since mid-April.

Tampa’s mask order provides exceptions, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Among them: You can’t use a mask to conceal your identity.

Other exemptions noted by The Times include:

  • Children under 2.
  • Those observing federal social distancing guidelines (the 6-foot rule.)
  • Anyone who has pre-existing health conditions that would be adversely affected by a mask.
  • Those working inside in a business or profession who don’t interact with other people.
  • Those inside a business who socially distance themselves from others.
  • Those working in a business or profession where a mask or face covering would prevent them from performing their duties.
  • Exercising while social distancing.
  • Eating and drinking.
  • The mask rule doesn’t apply when a hearing-impaired person needs to see the mouth of someone wearing a mask in order to communicate.

Joy Jackson, the director of the Florida Department of Health raised alarms about Polk’s growing case load when she spoke to the Polk County Commission on Monday.

“I’m worried about the trends in cases in Polk County. I’m worried because we have a population that doesn’t have immunity to this disease,” she said. “COVID-19 is five to 20 times more fatal than influenza. This is not a pumped-up influenza.”

Her comments preceded a commission decision to spend $10 million of federal CARES Act funds to increase COVID-19 testing in Polk, targeting areas with vulnerable populations where testing has lagged.

Two county commissioners told News Channel 8 on Friday that they don’t expect county government to mandate mask wearing.

“While numbers are ticking up … I do not see Polk County following Tampa’s lead. Folks are smart enough to make their own decisions,” Commissioner George Lindsey said.

“The current trend is up but this is not a static situation and we expect numbers to go up and down over time,” said County Commission Chair Bill Braswell. “I think it is also important to note Tampa’s population is nine times more dense and St. Pete 12 times more dense than Polk County.”

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