Naples City Council asks businesses to mask up
Businesses and event organizers in the city of Naples will be required to mandate mask use.
The city council voted 4-3 Monday to approve a resolution requiring that people wear masks in establishments — from grocery stores to restaurants to bars to gift shops — and at outdoor public events. Businesses and event organizers would be required to ensure compliance or face Code Enforcement Board fines, according to the resolution.
Mayor Teresa Heitmann, Vice Mayor Terry Hutchison and Councilor Mike McCabe voted against the resolution, while councilors Ray Christman, Ted Blankenship, Gary Price and Paul Perry voted in favor.
If code enforcement determines the resolution is violated, the offending business or event organizer would receive a notice. If violations continue, the offending business would then be subject to a code enforcement hearing, which could an result in fines up to $250 per day per incident or up to $500 per day per incident for repeat offenders.
During Monday’s meeting, an attempt to delay the vote until Jan. 20 failed. Vice Mayor Hutchison, who put the motion forward, said the city failed to provide ample time between the announcement of the meeting and the meeting.
“I believe there are problems with the resolution as written,” Hutchison said. “Due to the late redrafts on our meeting agenda material and a lack of some essential data necessary to make decisions consistent with a citywide mandate, there is a clear inadequacy providing the public with the amount of time to be properly noticed.”
City attorney Jim Fox said the Florida Attorney General's Office has given the opinion that a 48-hour public notice is enough time before a meeting, a period upheld within the state courts.
Council debated adding travel guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and ultimately decided against adding them.
“The whole focus of this over many months of debating has been on masks,” Christman said. “I think adding travel guidelines and urging compliance with them is benign.”
The final resolution offers exceptions to the mask mandate for some, such as for children under 2 years of age and for people with medical impairments.
Just before the vote, Mayor Heitmann said she was not in favor of the resolution.
“There are so many issues with this mandate that are disappointing to me, especially because I do believe that it's not fair for our community,” she said.
As of Friday, Collier County had just over 20,000 confirmed cases and 317 deaths related to COVID-19, according to data from the Florida Department of Health. Hospitalization and death percentages were closely in line with overall state data at 6% and 2% respectively.
So far in December, Collier County has added 3,214 new COVID-19 cases, more than the total for all of November (3,170). It's also the second-highest monthly case total for Collier since the pandemic began, trailing only the 5,356 reported during July.
DOH collects city-specific data, too, with about 16,500 COVID-19 cases reported in Naples. That data is collected by ZIP code and those boundaries may extend beyond city limits.
The City of Naples Fire Chief Pete DiMaria updated the council prior to its vote on the status of the virus in the city. While giving a nationwide overview, he said the U.S. is experiencing 9/11-type fatalities per day while averaging 250,000 reported cases every day.
DiMaria said there is a need for more tools to help stop the spread of the virus.
“Data we look at is in the past,” he said. “The reason I’ve been constantly saying we need to strengthen mitigation strategies is because what I see coming.”
He said the population will surge in January when seasonal residents and tourists come down from northern states and adding a mask requirement could avoid hospital overcrowding.
During public comment, most spoke against the resolution. Some asked what changed to make the city council require masks.
The city first chose not to opt into the Collier County mask mandate at a public meeting in July.
At a public meeting on Dec. 3, a vote failed 3-4 to again opt into the most recent version of the county’s mask mandate.
Councilor Price, who voted against opting into the county's mandate in both July and December, said he reconsidered his position in part because an overwhelming number of residents wrote him emails saying they want to see a mask mandate in place.
“It seems like the significant majority is asking us to put this in place to protect the community,” he said.
The resolution passed Monday is set to expire April 13, when Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency order regarding the coronavirus pandemic also is expected to end.
Reporters Brittany Carloni and Dan Deluca contributed to this report.
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk