Commissioners Again Resist Mandating Masks

Mayor Bill Mutz may be feeling a little lonely these days. Mutz didn’t fare any better today than he did on Monday in getting support from the six other city commissioners for an order requiring people to wear masks inside public spaces in Lakeland.

Mutz kept his cool but was miffed that he couldn’t  garner any support from his colleagues after another commissioner brought up the mask issue at the end of a meeting called for another purpose.

Coronavirus “is a pandemic” and all the red lights are blinking, he said. He said if the commission doesn’t approve an order now, it will be forced to do so later.

At the end of a virtual meeting to move along the selection of a new city manager, Commissioner Stephanie Madden said she wanted to talk about the city’s educational efforts to combat the virus. That opened the door to a discussion about the mandatory wearing of masks in the city.

Not long after the meeting ended, an update from the Florida Department of Health showed that 90 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Lakeland today, a new high daily number; it’s 15 cases larger than the previous high reported last Friday.

Polk County as a whole reported its second-highest daily number of new cases: 175.

On Monday, Mutz urged commissions to support a mask mandate but couldn’t find any allies. It was deja vu on Wednesday. Commissioners said they are very concerned about the virus but didn’t yet support the mandatory wearing of masks.

“I don’t see any change” in my position, Commissioner Bill Read said.

With a mandatory ordinance, “Enforcement is a big issue,” Madden said, particularly with a possible $500 fine and police involvement.

Commissioner Scott Franklin said his colleagues should practice what they preach about stopping the spread of the virus.

Without mentioning names, he said he has seen photos on social media of unmasked commissioners touching other people.

“Shame on us,” Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley said.

Several commissioners said the city has to more aggressively market its coronavirus-fighting efforts.

“Wearing a mask is a personal responsibility,”  McCarley said.

The city’s message has lacked a sense of urgency, Commissioner Chad McLeod said.

But Kevin Cook, the city’s communications boss, displayed  several posters of the city’s efforts to encourage safety measures, including mask wearing. 

Franklin said putting a city mask-wearing law on the books just for the sake of passing a law is irresponsible.

“We’re not trying to create a police state,” Mutz said. 

Commissioners talked about scheduling another date to discuss the issue but did not do so.

At the beginning of a three-hour discussion on Monday, the incoming CEO of Lakeland Regional Health and the managing partner of Watson Clinic urged commissioners to require masks, saying it is the cheapest and most effective way to combat a marked increase in COVID-19 cases in Polk County.

Both institutions report seeing more younger patients with the disease as the area has transitioned from a preponderance of cases in nursing homes to community transmission in a time when more people feel emboldened to gather in public.

In the last week, several nearby local governments have issued various forms of mask orders. They include the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, and Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange and Pasco Counties.

The mask discussion begins at about 01:17:30 in this video:

City Commission Meeting 2020.06.24 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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