Lakeland city commissioners vote to approve mask mandate beginning 5 p.m. Thursday

In a 180-degree turn, Lakeland city commissioners moved to approve a mandatory indoor mask resolution that goes into effect 5 p.m. Thursday.

The requirement applies to those in an indoor business within city limits and not maintaining social distancing from others, excluding family members or companions. The measure passed 5 to 2.

Some exceptions include those who are under the age of 8, those who must remove a face covering in order to properly communicate with an individual who is hearing impaired, when a mask prevents someone from doing their job, those who are eating and drinking, those under the age of 18 playing youth sports, and it won't be required if it conflicts with ADA requirements.

Officials said a store owner has the power to tell a customer to leave. If a customer says no, the business owner can call the police.

Penalties could include a fine of up to $250. The resolution expires 5 p.m. August 3, but commissioners could modify it.

The full resolution can be viewed below:

Mobile users can view the resolution by clicking here.

Last week, city commissioners did not want to move forward with an executive order to make face coverings mandatory within the city, but most have since changed their mind.

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Commissioner Scott Franklin maintained his opposition against the mandate. He said he carries a mask with him, and is not anti-mask, but believes people should take personal responsibility.

"I think what is being proposed today is miles and miles improved what was proposed last week. I'm a firm believer in personal responsibility," he said during Thursday's meeting.

Franklin believes Governor Ron DeSantis' move to suspend on-site alcohol consumption at bars was a good step.

"That's at the individual level and also the businesses who didn't act responsibilty…that's having some tragic consequences," Franklin said. "I'm not anti-mask. There's issues with certain people that shouldn't have to wear it. I still support everything we can do to keep our campaign of communication for acting responsibility but I cannot stand a mandate for this."

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Franklin said he believes there will be a drop in numbers, just based on people social distancing. However, last week, Mayor William Mutz and other commissioners said there were many residents not following social distancing guidelines.

Commissioner Chad McCleod, who voted in favor of the resolution, said he doesn't think wearing masks is a black-and-white issue and sees it as a pro-economic issue.

"I think there are a lot of gray areas," he said. "There were a number of small businesses concerned about the enforcement. There are others that would take challenges of enforcement rather than another shut down. So many would not survive a second shutdown."

While Commissioner Bill Read says he wears a mask because he considers himself to be in the vulnerable population, he thinks it can give people a false sense of security.

"It looks like it's going to pass," he said prior to the vote. "It's not a bad thing. I wear a mask. I encourage everyone to wear a mask...Please wear a mask and take all the precautions you can. You can only responsible for protecting yourself."

Read said he disagreed with Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley as far as whether there will be a drop in the number of positive cases.

McCarley said she hopes there could be a decrease in the next 30 days once the mandate goes into effect. Read, in response, said the virus isn't going away.

"I think August 3 we're going to see the numbers continue to go up. I don't think this will be over anytime soon," Read said.

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McCarley said there won't be a drastic drop because the numbers today are a result of actions from up to 14 days ago.

"I've always worn a mask because I want to be a good neighbor," she said. "I know we're all frustrated. We're all tired of all of this but we are going to be more tired if we don't do something about it now and look out in the next 30 days and hope to see a change."

She said wearing a face covering isn't the only action people should be taking.

"We still have to be diligent and social distance," McCarley said. "A mask isn't going to make you Superman. It's one more tool in the arsenal against COVID."

Commissioners Franklin and Read voted against the measure.

Dr. Joy Jackson, director of the Department of Health in Polk County, spoke during Thursday's meeting saying the median age for those who test positive for the coronavirus is 40.

She said, as of Thursday morning, 92 individuals were being treated for COVID-19 at Lakeland Regional Health. Of those, 37 are in the ICU and 14 are on ventilators. 

Dr. Jackson said while patient intake is increasing the hospital is managing, but is concerned about the upcoming holiday weekend. 

"If an individual is in a risk category, do not go to any events with people who are not in your immediate family or home," she said.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article said the mandate applied to indoor businesses where more than 50 people were present. This version has been updated.