The Palm Coast City Council this evening revoked its year-long, never-enforced but influential mask mandate on the heels of the city administration lifting mask requirements in city facilities and county government doing likewise on Monday.
By the time the council took its unanimous vote, it was more of a ratification of a done deal than a significant change: most of the audience was unmasked, so were council members.
The move wasn’t without some theatrics from council member and disinformation from the floor: Mayor Milissa Holland, who had pressed hardest and successfully for a mask mandate not only in Palm Coast but in Bunnell and Flagler Beach, passed the gavel to a fellow council member so she could make the motion for revocation. Council members Nick Klufas and Ed Danko’s voices fell over each other to second it (Danko, whose decibels reign champion on the council, won). Vice Mayor asked for any council discussion. There was none. So he filled the void.
“Well, before I take it to the public, I just want to say that….” dramatic pause. He picks up a mask. He flings it behind him. He then says, to laughter from the audience: “I’ve had it with this thing. But you want to know something? You. All of you, every single one of you,” he said, pointing at the audience, and by extension, at the city’s 90,000 people, “deserves the credit, followed by our first responders, fire, sheriffs, because you guys put your butt on the line. Sorry that I said ‘butt,’ but anyway. You guys, and I mean you guys, I say it with all due respect, deserve more credit than anybody else. Those who are against it, those who are in favor of it, as of today, after we all hopefully vote for this to rescind will be able to–let me do it again, throw it out.” So he did it again.
Holland quickly jumped in though to say that the motion doesn’t mean that those who prefer to be masked shouldn’t continue to be so. “We’re just stating that it’s changing the resolution,” the mayor said.
Fellow-Council member Ed Danko, rather than throw away his “I am with Trump” mask, wrapped it around his water bottle.
The segment wouldn’t have been complete without a cameo from covid deniers, whose verve always accompanied local governments’ discussions and resolutions on the subject to the point of disrupting and delaying meetings–in Palm Coast, at the County Commission, at the Flagler Beach City Commission–while spreading virulent strains of disinformation. Tonight was no exception, though the statement to the council by Chris Martin, a frequent presence in the circumstances, was false but polite.
He started by citing a recent claim, misreading a Centers for Disease Control study, that “there was no statistical improvement from wearing a mask and restaurants. The whole thing has been nonsense.” That claim has been discredited as outright false by numerous fact-checking organizations, among them the Associated Press and PolitiFacts. Martin went on to claim that the push for masks was driven “by politics and non science,” calling it “bordering on fascism.” He ended with one last falsehood about vaccines–that “you are more likely to get in serious health problems and die from the vaccine.”
“That’s a lie,” someone yelled out from the audience, accurately: As of today, 9 million Floridians (out of 21.5 million) and 52,000 Flagler County residents (out of 115,000) have received at least one shot of the vaccine. Adverse reactions have been statistically insignificant. Some jeered Martin, others applauded, a divide that has accompanied mask mandates, resolutions and debates in Flagler as elsewhere, and not just in the United States, since the beginning of the pandemic.
Holland’s words introducing the move to rescind were more diplomatic as she summarized what had led her to push for the masking resolution, in partnership with the city’s fire chief, the health department, the county’s emergency management division and others. “It has been a incredible effort thus far to be responsive to this pandemic,” Holland said. “It has certainly been also by the residents who I want to really say thank you, because you have done an extraordinary job at coming together, heeding the warnings, staying safe, keeping your neighbors safe, and certainly complying with what’s been requested all along.”
The effort, Holland said, has now moved to encouraging a maximum amount of vaccination. “I have recently become fully vaccinated. It’s why I don’t have to wear a mask anymore,” she said, “so I’m grateful for the health department doing their incredible job with our emergency management partners to offer vaccines to as many residents that are wanting the vaccine. So we are encouraging those that have not been vaccinated to please do so. It’s a great way to show your unified support of your neighbors, the community’s safety, and continue to get us out of what has been a considerable amount of time that has not only impacted our residents’ lives, those of our business community, as well as those that we’ve lost to this tragic disease.” (In Flagler County alone, 111 lives have been lost so far to the disease. “And so, I have asked for this to be put on the agenda to ask for this resolution since I was the one who originally signed the resolution.”
As it turned out, the masking segment would turn out to be a mild hiccup compared to what would happen moments later, as if those who would disrupt the proceedings were merely warming themselves up.