Updated 3:44 p.m. July 9
The Palm Coast City Council voted 5-0 on July 7 to approve a resolution stating that people in the city shall wear a face covering indoors when they are not in a residence, as well as outdoors when not socially distanced.
"People that are out in public in situations where they can not be sure they're going to be able to stay far enough away from their fellow residents need to have a mask on."
— BOB CUFF, Palm Coast city councilman
The resolution spells out a number of exceptions — exempting, among others, children under 2, people who are observing social distancing, and people who are unable to wear a face covering for health reasons.
"If they're not distancing, then they should have their mask on, is the intent of this resolution," City Manager Matt Morton said.
The resolution also encourages businesses to prohibit entry to those who aren't wearing face coverings.
It does not specify a direct enforcement mechanism.
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly has said he does not believe it would be appropriate for his deputies to enforce a mask mandate. But he's noted that businesses have the right to refuse entry to people refusing to wear masks, and, under existing law, could have trespassed from the premises individuals who refuse to leave when told to do so.
The 5-0 City Council vote in favor the mandate comes after multiple experts at the county and city level had endorsed mask wearing as an effective measure for slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Mayor Milissa Holland has consistently encouraged residents to wear masks, and, during the July 7 meeting, noted that the medical director for the Flagler County office of the Florida Department of Health had said he believed that if 65% of local residents would wear masks indoors for 30 days straight, the growth rate of local infection numbers would be reduced to zero.
"We have come to a moment in time where we do have to make a decision on what we feel is responsible as a government body," Holland said. "Over 43% [of Palm Coast residents] are at risk residents, and we do have to consider those who fall into that category who do have to go out, who aren’t able to stay indoors at all times."
"Unfortunately, a lot of the people I know are making this not a health issue, they’re making this a political issue — to the point they feel it's an inconvenience; they relate it to constitutional rights," said Councilman Eddie Branquinho. "Well, let me tell you about inconvenience. My son passed away less than two weeks ago — this kid wearing his mask 12 hours a day. So I feel no sympathy for you, with all due respect, for not wanting to wear your mask one hour while you go to the supermarket. ... As a nurse, he was wearing a mask." Marco Branquinho, 26, died from medical situation not related to the coronavirus.
Councilman Nick Klufas expressed condolences to Branquinho, saying he agreed about the need for a mask requirement.
"We have to understand that we have a higher propensity of individuals who are susceptible and have comorbidities," Klufas said. "... If we don’t remain vigilant and responsible, then we put everything that we’ve worked to do at risk," Klufas said.
Councilman Jack Howell said that he's in the high-risk category himself at age 77, and is "trying to make it to 78."
"Sometimes in government, we have to protect the public from themselves," Howell said. "And in this particular scenario, I totally agree with making the masks mandatory. Yes, if there are health issues and they can’t wear the mask, there are always exceptions."
Councilman Bob Cuff said that just as residents have complained about the possibility of a mask ordinance, they also complained weeks ago when the city shut down public facilities.
"And we received many emails saying, 'Oh, don’t do that, you don’t need to do that, we’re responsible, we know how to stay away from each other,'" Cuff said. "...What we’re seeing in the last couple of weeks here is that regardless of how many responsible people we have — and there are many out there — there aren’t enough of them, and we need to do whatever we can to get people to wear masks."
He called the objections of people who are citing the Constitution and privacy laws as a reason they shouldn't have to wear masks "excuses," and compared them to the excuses of 5-year-olds trying to argue with their parents about bedtime. They are, he said, "arguments by people that have agendas other than the best interest of their fellow citizens."
"I don't like to tell anybody what they have to do, what they ought to do; I hope we can rely on the common sense and the common decency of our citizens, but if we don’t do something to start turning these numbers around and get them headed in the right direction, the economic impact on this community, on the state, on the nation is going to be enormous, even compared to what we've already had to suffer" Cuff added. "... Again, it’s not a political issue. It’s a medical issue. It's a survival issue."
Although humans are supposed to be the most intelligent species on the planet, Cuff said, "There's a lot of people I run into anytime I have to go to Publix or Lowes or anyplace else that aren’t living up to the description. ... It's not going away because we wish it will. We need to live with it and we need to deal with it if we want to keep our community open, keep our citizens working, keep our economy running and keep as many people as possible healthy and prevent the kind of needless deaths that we’ve seen so far."
The council could return to the mandate in the future to add an enforcement mechanism, and could potentially issue citations, City Attorney Bill Reischmann said.