Marco Island city councilors say no to mask requirement at farmers market amid COVID-19

Samantha Malloy, manager of the Parks and Recreation Department of the city of Marco Island, speaks during a City Council meeting on Sept. 9, 2020.

Marco Island city councilors said Wednesday they oppose requiring face masks at the city's farmers market although city staff recommended it to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Because we cannot ensure proper distancing, we feel this is he best way to err on the side of caution," said Samantha Malloy, manager of the city's parks and recreation department.

City Council Vice Chairman Jared Grifoni said requiring face masks would be hard to enforce and that it would be in "conflict with existing city policy."

"I can't support that," he said.

Marco Island City Council Vice Chairman Jared Grifoni speaks during a Council meeting on Sept. 9, 2020.

In case you missed it:Marco Island Farmers' Market to require masks, food-to-go, reduce vendors amid COVID-19

Marco Island has not opted into Collier County's mask mandate effective since July. The mandate requires people to wear face coverings inside business establishments, including government offices and nonprofits, within unincorporated Collier. The order excludes schools and places of worship.

"I just can't see why we have this in here given that (we have) no indoor or outdoor mask requirement within city limits," Grifoni said. "Nobody in Collier County has a mask requirement outside."

City Councilor Howard Reed said he supports the rest of the staff's plan for the farmers market if they eliminate the mask requirement.

Marco Island City Councilor Howard Reed speaks during a council meeting March 2, 2020.

"It's always nice to err on the side of caution (but) I believe it is nicer to follow the science," he said. "The science, I believe, does not at all support the wearing of masks outside unless people are congregating."

Reed said that in his experience attending the farmers market he rarely gets within 6 feet of other people.

City Councilor Greg Folley said it would be "sound" to eliminate the requirement.

"There is very little evidence of transmission outdoors, any place, in particular in the heat we are experiencing in this climate," he said.

Marco Island City Council Chairperson Erik Brechnitz speaks to Chris Byrne,  the city's emergency management coordinator, during a council meeting on June 15, 2020.

City Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz said the "half-life of the virus in direct sunlight outside is one minute."

"From a science standpoint, there is no health reason to require masks," he said.

Dr. Jayanta Gupta, assistant professor and director of the public health program at Florida Gulf Coast University, said Thursday that people should wear a mask indoors and outdoors if there is a possibility they will come in close contact (6 feet or less) with people who do not live in their household.

Gupta earned a Ph.D. in epidemiology (environmental health) from University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 2008.

Gupta said even people who are not showing symptoms like fever, cough or fatigue can still spread the virus and should wear a mask to protect others.

"When you wear a mask, we want to protect others from my coughs, sneezes or respiratory droplets to (lower) the risk of COVID-19 spread," he said.

Dr. Jayanta Gupta is an assistant professor and director of the public health program at Florida Gulf Coast University. He earned a Ph.D. in Epidemiology (Environmental Health) from University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 2008.

"Ordinary cough masks we wear are not too effective in protecting the wearer from acquiring coronavirus," he said.

Gupta said everybody should wear a mask with the exception of babies and children younger than 2, people who have trouble breathing and anyone unable to remove their face covering without assistance.

He said people having difficulty breathing should try to avoid coming into close contact with other people.

Gupta said the World Health Organization stated that "heat or sunlight does not have any effect on stopping the spread of COVID-19."

He said that India, his home country, is experiencing very hot and humid months as it recently became the country with the second most reported COVID-19 cases. The country with the most reported cases is the United States with 6,390,840 as of Thursday, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Gupta said evidence shows that only temperatures about or over 133 degrees Fahrenheit will kill COVID-19. He said current research is trying to find out how much ultraviolet light is needed to kill the virus.

Other rules proposed by staff are reducing the number of vendors from 80 to 45 or 50, installing booths 6 feet apart from each other, requiring vendors to have hand sanitizer, and preparing food-to-go and eliminating seating areas where people would normally congregate to eat, Malloy said.

Malloy said the city's website will show in the upcoming months the contact information of the vendors so people can order in advance and pick up their food.

Grifoni said the city should attempt to offer seating areas for people to eat, but Reed said he supports eliminating it to discourage congregation.

City Councilor Larry Honig said the objective should be replicate what has been done in the past "given the guidelines the government has issued on what kind of seating is available."

"I would have the marketplace decide what is important," he said.

The venue of the farmers market will continue to be Veterans' Community Park but it will change to Mackle Park once the construction of new facilities begins at Veterans', Malloy said.

The installation of the construction fence is scheduled to begin early next year, based on a city document.

The market usually takes place every Wednesday beginning in November and runs through April. Last year ended early due to the pandemic.

The first market of this season will be from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 18 at Veterans' Community Park, according to the city's website. The deadline for vendors to apply is Sept. 23.

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