Pensacola mayor says Escambia and Santa Rosa counties should require masks to combat COVID-19
After issuing an emergency order on Friday that people at indoor business in the city limits should wear face masks, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said Monday that Escambia and Santa Rosa counties should follow suit.
During his Monday morning press conference, Robinson said that he believed if the other local governments joined with similar masks ordinances to the city, the region could get back to the low level of COVID-19 that it was seeing at the beginning of June.
"I really hope Escambia and Santa Rosa (counties) would think about that," Robinson said. "If we could do that, in a way we could beat this thing back to where we were without really doing closures. We don't need to close. So again, I think that's the way we'd rather see happening."
Robinson issued an emergency order on Friday afternoon requiring face coverings to be worn by anyone inside a business in the city limits.
The cities of Milton and Gulf Breeze mayors also issued similar orders late Friday.
"We could have COVID back down to where it was in early June in three weeks if we wore masks," Robinson said.
The Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommends that people should wear mask when it's not possible to stay 6 feet away from others.
Masks in Pensacola:Mayor issues emergency order requiring masks at indoor businesses
Mask in Santa Rosa Co.:Milton, Gulf Breeze join Pensacola in ordering masks inside businesses
Robinson said that is why he issued the mask order requiring businesses to ensure their customers wear mask indoors, but he said without other local governments joining in, the policy won't be as effective.
"Even if Escambia County did one, that would also not totally be effective without Santa Rosa County doing one," Robinson said.
Escambia County District 4 Commissioner Robert Bender, who represents many zip codes that have seen an increase COVID-19 cases, said he didn't believe issuing a mask ordinance was the right move because it would be impossible to enforce.
"If people want to make an impact, then they should wear a mask," Bender said. "I've worn a mask when I've gone out in public, when I go the grocery store, when I'm going shopping, I wear a mask."
Bender said he thinks the right move is for the county to reinforce the personal responsibility idea with messaging from the county.
"I think that's going to go just as far, if not farther than requiring people to do it because you're going to have people that just want to push back just because they don't want to be told what to do.," Bender said.
City spokesperson Kaycee Lagarde said the city is relying on voluntary compliance with the mayor's order.
Violating an emergency order is a second-degree misdemeanor under Florida law.
"They mayor does not intend to enforce it that way, but we expect people to comply voluntarily," Lagarde said. "At this point, we are educating those who are found not in compliance."
The Pensacola City Council will be have a special meeting Tuesday to consider passing its own emergency mask ordinance that carries more specific penalties than the mayor's. Under the proposal from Council members Jewel Cannada-Wynn, Sherri Myers and Ann Hill, fines would start at $50 for the first violation and for each addition violation up to a fourth violation that carries an up to $500 fine and the potential of 60 days in jail.
Robinson said he knows there's a lot of "consternation" around being required to wear masks, and he's gotten a lot of emails both sides of the issue.
"I know many of you out there have said the facemask does nothing to help me if I wear it," Robinson said. "You are 100% correct. It's not for you, you are wearing it for everyone else."
The CDC's recommendation on wearing masks says they create a simple barrier to prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing a mask coughs, sneezes or talks.
Robinson pointed to his own example when his adult son had COVID-19 earlier this year and stayed with Robinson while he recovered.
"He wore a mask whenever he was in our house and not in his room," Robinson said. "None of us got it. None of the three of us got it."
Health officials have said many of the people testing positive are asymptomatic, Robinson said, which makes masks even more important to protect people are vulnerable to severe health complications from coronavirus.
Robinson pointed to his experience at Publix where he noted all the employees are wearing masks to protect their customers.
"This gentleman behind one of the desks is wearing a mask, and he's protecting you," Robinson said. "What his mother wants to know, and his grandmother lives with him, why aren't you wearing a mask to protect them? It's a common courtesy."
Jim Little can be reached at email@example.com and 850-208-9827.