Lakeland’s mask mandate has been extended until at least Sept. 8. City commissioners voted 5-2 today to renew the directive requiring masks inside businesses after Polk’s chief health officer told them their initial one-month mandate has helped retard the spread of COVID-19 in the city.
Voting in favor: Mayor Bill Mutz and Commissioners Stephanie Madden, Sara Roberts McCarley, Chad McLeod and Phillip Walker. Voting against: Commissioners Scott Franklin and Bill Read.
The resolution approved today remains in effect until Sept. 8; commissioners will decide that day whether to extend it again. Other than the effective dates, it is identical to the July resolution and includes the same list of exceptions, City Attorney Palmer Davis said.
Read the resolution here or at the end of this article.
The July mandate helped to first flatten the rise in new COVID-19 cases in Lakeland and then to reduce the numbers, Dr. Joy Jackson, director of the Florida Department of Health’s office in Polk County, told commissioners.
She showed a chart contrasting Lakeland’s rate of new cases with with the countywide rate for Polk, where county commissioners declined to require masks in the unincorporated areas.
Polk’s countywide number didn’t start declining until Publix and national retail chains started requiring masks in mid-July, Jackson noted. “What I hope you see is that where Polk cases continued to go up until the week beginning July 12, Lakeland basically went flat and then started decreasing the week of July 19,” she said.
The proportion of tests that come back positive also starting to decline in Polk in the last week, Jackson noted. Last week’s average positivity rate was 11.3% with around 12,000 people in Polk tested, she said. The positivity rate was 15% several weeks earlier when around 14,000 were tested, she said.
“I believe that virtual all of our community metrics have improved, and again I believe it’s the result of individuals taking responsibility and also policy that supports individuals in the community,” Jackson said.
Mutz commented that the positivity rate in Polk has been as high as 17% and added that the “goal is to get below 10% and 5% is where we really get the gains.” He also noted that a mask mandate in Winter Haven, enacted later than Lakeland’s, helped to reduce Polk’s numbers.
Commissioner Read tried unsuccessfully to weaken the mandate by amending it to exempt schools. Only Franklin joined him in voting for that amendment. The Polk School Board voted last week to require masks for K-12 students attending brick-and-mortar schools this fall, but Read said he wanted to give private schools some room to make their own decisions.
Read also continued today to counter the guidance of Jackson and other public health experts by insisting that the main reason to wear a mask is to protect the wearer. Local health officials have told commissioners that the main reason to wear masks is to protect others in case the wearer has COVID-19 and doesn’t know it.
Read said he sees a lot of inferior masks in public and declared “I cannot support this issue seeing all the different masks out there that are hodge podge and stuff like that.”
The key clause in the resolution says:
Every person working, living, visiting, or doing business in the City of Lakeland shall wear a face covering consistent with CDC guidelines in any indoor location, other than their home or residence, when not maintaining social distancing from other persons, excluding family members or companions
The resolution includes the following exceptions:
- Children under age eight
- People observing social distancing under CDC guidelines
- People for whom a face covering would cause impairment due to an existing health condition
- People working in a business or a profession who do not have interactions with others
- Those who work in a business or profession who maintain social distancing from other people
- People working in a business or profession where use of a face covering would prevent them from performing their duties
- People who are exercising while maintaining social distancing
- People who are eating or drinking
- Children under age eighteen years old while participating in youth sports
- Public safety, fire, and other life-safety and health-care personnel; their protective equipment requirements will be governed by their respective agencies
- People communicating with someone who is hearing impaired where the wearing of a face covering would impede communication, provided that social distancing is observed as much as possible
- People for whom the requirement to wear a face-covering would cause a conflict with the Americans with Disabilities Act
Violations carry a potential fine of $250, but Mutz said today that nobody has been fined so far.
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