The Flagler Beach and Bunnell city commissions this evening both voted unanimously to approve mask-wearing requirements in all public places and outdoors where social distancing is not possible, joining Palm Coast, where a similar measure passed that council on Tuesday.
All three governments expressly said they were not interested in a “mask police,” or having law enforcement involved in enforcing the requirement, which is designed to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.
All three resolutions, which are nearly interchangeable, provide for numerous exceptions such as for people suffering certain health conditions, the youngest children, people exercising or eating and drinking in restaurants, and so on.
“I work for a health care company and we have been wearing masks now for months, the company has actually increased restrictions of non-wearing of masks,” Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson said in lengthy opening remarks, pressing for the resolution. She cited the latest numbers in Florida and Flagler, which have been sobering, and revealed specific information until now not known publicly: that currently, nine people are at AdventHealth Palm Coast for Covid treatment, three of them in the intensive care unit. The Agency for Health Care Administraton today indicated that just one ICU bed was available at AdventHealth Palm Coast, and just four general medicine beds.
Robinson described the issue as “us showing unity to each other” sand “a visible signal to remind people to be careful.” Turning to Commissioner Bill Baxley, who is in his 80s and is the senior-most elected official in the county, Robinson said: “I care about him and I don’t want to do anything that’s going to hurt him.” People 55 and over have been at most risk for contracting the disease, as have people with underlying conditions. The state today exceeded 4,000 deaths, with a total of 120 deaths in a single day. “I don’t want anybody I know, love or care about to be part of those stats,” Robinson said.
Flagler Beach City Commission Chair Jane Mealy spoke in similarly forceful terms after an in-person presentation to the commission by Bob Snyder, the health department chief in Flagler. The usually ebullient Snyder was more reserved, as he has been in recent days, the burden of Flagler’s and Florida’s grimmer numbers clearly affecting his tone.
Snyder also addressed hospitalizations as if specifically to discredit a common misconception–that Florida’s ongoing surge has not resulted in serious increases in hospitalizations or deaths. “Hospitalizations related to Covid-19 admissions are up significantly,” Snyder said of the local hospital. He said there are “several individuals in the ICU< some of them extremely sick." Emergency room visits he said "began to increase and spike" a few weeks ago, while the health department's workload for case investigations has tripled. The plan is to add 40 staff members, with 10 new nurses joining the staff Monday.
"I can't even think of a second wave right now, because we're still in the first wave, and things are going in the wrong direction. This is a war folks, and we are fighting an invisible enemy," Snyder said, differentiating Covid-19 from other flu-like epidemics of recent years. He said 40 to 70 percent of people who have the virus are asymptomatic, unknowingly spreading it.
"You are on the right side of history here, despite what you're hearing," Snyder told the commissioners.
No one among the public addressed the Bunnell commission’s meeting, some of it conducted by Zoom, some of it in person. The commission approved its resolution in a 20-minute special meeting early this evening. A few people addressed the Flagler Beach commission, most of them opposed to a mandate, some of them repeating gross inaccuracies, such as the claim that Taiwan has controlled the virus without mask-wearing. (Masks are near-universal in Taiwan, and strict restrictions are still enforced even though the island nation has all but controlled the virus.)
Paul Harrington, the former candidate for the Flagler Beach commission, summed up a common sentiment among opponents of mask mandates. “I don’t need someone telling me you ought to wear a mask,” he said, though he himself wears a mask wherever he thinks it necessary and believes in the common sense need to wear one.
But “approaching and advising” is the extent of any enforcement in the city’s resolution, City Attorney Drew Smith said.
“So it’s an unenforceable resolution,” Mayor “like saying please don’t speed but we won’t give you a ticket.”
There’s only been 40 cases in the Flagler Beach zip code and its surroundings north and south, Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney, who is opposed to a mask mandate, said. “We’re not supposed to be enforcing regulatory rules,” he said, saying the climate for mask enforcement is “tepid,” and will trigger litigation, costing the city. “It should not be a criminal offense,” he said. Rather, residents should be thoroughly educated about the virus and encouraged to follow the proper guidelines.
Both Robinson in Bunnell and Snyder in Flagler Beach cited from a new study Flagler Health Department Medical Director Stephen Bickel circulated among local authorities earlier today, pointing to conclusive evidence that mask wearing lowers the incidence of fatalities.
A Flagler Beach commissioner asked: Can businesses refuse service to people without the mandate? Smith said any business can conduct its protocols the way a business chooses, but the mandate gives businesses “enough of a comfort level” to ensure that the requirement is in place, thus deflecting the responsibility.
“This has a little bit more persuasive value,” Belhumeur said, giving businesses “more backbone as far as protecting people by refusing entry or service to people.”
The Flagler Beach resolution would be in effect for 45 days, with the possibility of renewal.