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Three SWFL communities vote against mask mandates

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Three local government entities in Southwest Florida voted against mask mandates Tuesday for a pandemic precaution. Collier and Charlotte county commission boards each voted 3-2 and Bonita Springs City Council voted 4-3 to deny recommendations for mandatory face coverings in public portions of businesses in their respective communities. 

Collier commissioners said the resolution still stands that they approved a few weeks ago strongly encouraging people to wear masks in public. Mask mandates already are in place in Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Punta Gorda. 

During Tuesday’s marathon meeting, Chairman Burt Saunders and Andy Solis were the only Collier commissioners on the dais wearing masks and the only two who voted in favor of the emergency ordinance to require face coverings in public. Commissioners Donna Fiala, Bill McDaniel and Penny Taylor voted against the measure proposed by Solis. 

“I can’t support your rationale,” McDaniel says, adding that he does not concur with the thought process that limits an individual’s choice in the matter. Fiala and Taylor were not necessarily against requiring masks, but rather they opposed the enforcement process, which they say could put an undue financial burden on businesses at a time when they are already suffering because of the pandemic. Businesses allowing unmasked customers to shop would have faced a code enforcement violation and a fine up to $500. 

Charlotte Commissioner Chris Constance proposed the county ordinance Wednesday requiring masks and the motion was seconded by Commissioner Stephen Deutsch. The other three commissioners — Ken Doherty, Joe Tiseo and Chairman Bill Truex — voted against the measure. At their July 28 meeting, Charlotte commissioners will consider a non-binding resolution encouraging people to wear masks in public. 

The Lee County communities of Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Estero and Fort Myers also have denied motions for mask mandatesBonita Mayor Peter Simmons concurs with the enforcement difficulty of a mask mandate, which could elicit lawsuits because of its infringement upon individual rights and liberties, he said. Instead of a government function, requiring employees and patrons to wear masks should be a decision made by local business owners, many local elected officials believe. 

The National Retail Federation issued a statement Wednesday encouraging all retailers to adopt a nationwide policy that requires customers to wear face coverings or masks to protect the health and well-being of customers, associates and partners during the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, Starbucks and Best Buy started requiring all shoppers to wear face masks in their stores. Starting Monday, shoppers in Walmart and Sam’s Club stores nationwide are required to wear masks, the company announced Wednesday. Other chains that earlier implemented nationwide mask mandates include Apple, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Costco. 

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