St. Augustine City Commission voted unanimously on Friday to enforce an indoor mask mandate, with enforcement beginning Saturday at 12:01 a.m.
After hearing more than an hour-and-a-half of public comment, Mayor Tracy Upchurch and the City Commission decided it would be best to implement the mandate, as several other cities in the state have done.
There are several exceptions to the resolution:
- Children under 2-years-old.
- People who have health conditions that would make mask-wearing harmful.
- Workers who don’t have social interaction, or workers who are able to maintain social distancing from others.
- People who are exercising in a gym that are maintaining social distancing.
- People eating and drinking.
- First responders and health care personnel, who are provided PPE and have their own guidelines.
- People who are hearing impaired and cannot communicate with a mask.
Those who don’t follow the guidelines can be subject to a fine of up to $500.
To begin the meeting, the commissioners heard from City Manager John Regan, who outlined the benefits of mask-wearing and addressed some of the concerns from residents, including enforcement.
“We all drive cars. How many do we stop for infractions? A very small amount,” Regan said. “The truth is that if people would just blow off the laws, society wouldn't work because our police force simply couldn't catch all the violations.”
Regan said the city received more than 350 emails from citizens on both sides of the issue.
“Of that, 81% of the people that took the time to send you an email support a mask policy, a mandated mask policy indoors,” Regan said. “Nineteen percent did not.”
During the public comment period, there were many opinions on both sides of the resolution.
“We’ve had enough of everything being taken from us,” said one commenter opposed to the ordinance. “We’ve had enough of being told what to do when this is a free country.”
Tom Dolan, a business owner in St. Augustine, said mandating mask-wearing would take the pressure off businesses to create their own rules.
“What it allows us as a business to do is to not turn away guests because of our own policy... we're clamoring for guests, we don't want to turn away people. But we have the care of our employees that we have to take into consideration,” Dolan said.
Dolan has had to close his business due to an employee testing positive for coronavirus. He said he’s seen patrons coming from all over the country, making it hard to regulate who his staff comes into contact with.
After many phone calls, Mayor Upchurch stopped the public comment period, saying the meeting had gotten out of control.
Upchurch said he was willing to move the rest of the meeting until Monday, where public comment could be held publicly, but other commissioners said they wanted to make a decision Friday.
“I do think it's an emergency and I think that we should proceed as if it is an emergency,” said City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline.
The commissioners also said they would consider putting together an outdoor mask mandate at a later time.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.