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Cape rejects mandatory mask mandate

By Staff | Jul 7, 2020

The city of Cape Coral will not require face coverings in public places.

Cape Coral City Council on Monday rejected an ordinance that would have required the wearing of masks in most public interactions, with the majority weighing in on the side of education and urging voluntary compliance with the measure the medical community says will slow the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

Also noted was an opposing view shared during public comment, voiced by State Rep. and U.S. House candidate Byron Donalds, who said the city has no authority to issue a mandate.

“You have no authority to mandate what people can put on their body. The fear people are having doesn’t justify it,” Donalds said. “As a council, you have the solemn duty to vote this down and get back to common sense.”

Donalds’ two-minute comment was significant to council members Marilyn Stout and John Gunter, who used what he said to help determine their decision to not support the ordinance.

Those voting voting against the ordinance brought forward by Mayor Joe Coviello also included Councilmember Jessica Cosden, who, with Stout, said she will continue to wear a mask in public situations.

“I’m convinced masks do prevent the spread and it makes me sad that some people aren’t wearing them,” Cosden said. “I wear my mask to protect you and I don’t want to go back to a lockdown situation and I’m concerned we’re heading in that direction.”

Most thought the education route, as recommended by city staff, was the way to go.

Coviello, though, was having none of that argument, saying “education” has been happening for months.

“We’ve been told these things for three months and this keeps continuing. If I’m going to err, it’s on the side of caution,” Coviello said. “I’m looking to protect the well-being of our residents. I don’t want to say three weeks from now that I wish we had done something.”

Council members John Carioscia and Jennifer Nelson agreed, but with this being an emergency ordinance, six votes were needed for passage, and the measure was defeated 5-3, a vote tipped decidedly toward views also shared by those who turned out for public comment.

The dozens of people who came to speak at Monday’s special meeting, continued from a contentious session last Thursday, came to beg Council to shoot down the emergency ordinance that would have mandated masks at certain businesses.

Lisa Cohen, who spoke against the ordinance, said the vote was a tremendous victory, but added she was disappointed in the city council, since the elected board did agree the city will continue to monitor the spread of the virus on a state and county level and would revisit the issue, if deemed necessary.

“The mayor is going to force us to bring high numbers to the meeting and these people are furious,” Cohen said. “I really think we need to focus on education and maybe have a community conversation.”

The vast majority of those speaking during public comment asked council to reject the ordinance for a myriad of reasons, from their belief that masks don’t prevent the virus, to individual liberty, to oxygen deprivation, to saying government is trying to stoke fear.

Some claimed that the case numbers weren’t telling the full story, stating that while all 24 intensive care beds at Cape Coral Hospital were filled, only 10 patients had the COVID-19 virus, according to numbers provided by Lee Health.

Cohen said the numbers had to be coaxed because she believed Lee Health wanted to hide the truth.

Cohen also claimed that all the measures taken to fight the infection have done more harm than good, as it has shut down our ability to fight off the infection by weakening our immune system.

“I feel like I’ve done more damage than good to my kids by keeping them home by resetting the clock on their immune system,” Cohen said. “I think we’re headed for herd immunity, which is good based on the infection rates being so high and death rates being so low.”

The city will continue to monitor the spread of the virus on a state and county level.