When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced Florida was moving into Phase 3 last Friday his Executive Order also suspended all outstanding fines and penalties, including any fines moving forward, related to COVID-19 on individuals.
His order did not mention fines handed out to businesses. Specifically Florida residents cannot be fined for not wearing a mask and not social distancing. So how does all of this impact Fort Myers Beach?
As of today there is still a mask mandate in effect on Fort Myers Beach. According to the ordinance, residents must wear masks when they go into a business and they must wear them outside if they cannot social distance. In the town’s ordinance businesses can be fined $500 if they do not comply.
In restaurants customers must wear a mask inside until they are seated and they must wear their mask when they get up to go to the restroom. All employees must also wear masks. The competing approaches to masks, between the state and local governments, has left some business owners wondering what they can and cannot do.
We’ve been told not a single ticket has been written for violating the mask ordinance on Fort Myers Beach. The Lee County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for enforcement (Lee County does not have a mask mandate).
Governor DeSantis has said he doesn’t support mask mandates of any kind. “I think it’s inappropriate for the state to be punishing people with fines. You put the information out and have folks make good decisions.” That’s the approach the Lee County Board of Commissioners has also been taking, education over law enforcement.
For Fort Myers Beach it’s been a much different approach. Without much public notice that a mask mandate was going to be discussed and voted on the council passed the mask mandate on July 1 by a 3-2 vote. When Councilman Dan Allers brought the mandate up at the last council meeting, the idea of rescinding the ordinance was quickly shot down by the Mayor.
On WINK News Monday Mayor Ray Murphy said “I’m here to tell you today that, don’t be confused, it’s still in effect until the town council says otherwise. The pandemic has not gone away. I don’t care if a piece of paper says something. It hasn’t gone away. It’s still with us”
He told the News-Press “As far as we’re concerned our ordinance is still in effect. We rely on science down here. Not the politics of it.”
An e-mail from Town Attorney John Herin that was forwarded to Beach Talk Radio News, Herin said, ” The facial covering restriction is in place and enforceable, which means fines can be imposed. Collecting the fine is potentially the issue under the Governor’s Order.”
Businesses on the beach have been battered over the last two years. From Red Tide one year to having to shut down due to COVID-19 the next. Many of the business owners simply want clarification and the ability to operate their business without wondering if they’re going to face a $500 fine.
DeSantis tried to give business owners a little clarity. His order says that if local governments put limitations or requirements on restaurants, they (the local government) must explain why that limitation or requirement is necessary and quantify the economic impact on those restaurants. It appears the mask mandate falls into a gray area.
The mask has become a very political issue with some claiming the science proves wearing a mask saves lives and protects people. Others have said the mask doesn’t protect anyone from getting COVID-19 and has had nothing to do with Florida’s declining numbers.
The Town Council meets again on Monday when the issue may come up for discussion.
According to the Florida Health Department COVID-19 dashboard there have been a total of 88 cases reported in the 33931 zip code since the pandemic started.