Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 2, 2020
During a Special Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at 2:30 p.m. today, Commissioners voted unanimously to approve Resolution 2020-94, an Emergency Order requiring the use of face masks by every person over the age of six who is in a public indoor space. The Order, adopted in the interests of lessening the Covid-19 risk for the public and business operators, is effective now and will expire 30 days from today. The Emergency Order will be enforced pursuant to Scetion 252.47, Florida Statutes by local law enforcement. Violation of the Emergency Order is punishable pursuant to Section 252.50 Florida Statutes as a criminal misdemeanor of the second degree.
City Commissioner Chip Ross drafted the Emergency Order, modeling it after the one recently adopted by Jacksonville. City Attorney Tammi Bach reviewed the draft for legal sufficiency.
There are three basic requirements:
- Every person over the age of six who is in a public indoor space must wear a face mask or covering when not able to engage in social distancing;
- Every operator, employee, customer or patron of a business establishment must wear a face mask or covering at all times while indoors at that business establishment unless he or she is able to engage in social distancing or unless wearing a face mask or covering significantly interferes with the provision or receipt of goods or services offered or received at that establishment (i.e., patrons at a restaurant, clients at a barbershop or hair salon, patients at a dentist’s office);
- Public safety, fire, law enforcement, and orthe life safety personnel are exempted from this requirement, as their personal protective equipment requirements will be governed by their respective agencies.
To accommodate ADA concerns the Emergency Order states the following:
“When a customer of a business establishment asserts that he or she has a disability that prevents the individual from wearing a face mask or covering, the owner, manager or employee of the business establishment may exclude the individual, even if they have a disability, as they pose a direct threat to the health and safety of employees and other customers, even if asymptomatic, and must accommodate the disabled individual in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the operations of the business establishment nor jeopardize the health of that buisness’s employees and other customers, such as providing curb service or delivery or other reasonable accommodation.”
During the 45-minute Special Meeting Commissioners discussed the need to coordinate this policy with Nassau County. County Manager/Attorney Mike Mullin called in during the meeting and said he had had an opportunity to review the draft and would recommend parallel passage by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). Mullin said that the need to move from recommendation to mandate followed in the wake of an upward spike in Covid-19 cases in the county.
City Commissioner Mike Lednovich said that two weeks ago the County Health Department was reporting an average of 1.6 new cases per day. During the last two weeks that number has risen to 9.7 new cases per day.
City Manager Dale Martin said that City Code Enforcement reports that as of yesterday all but two city restaurants were in compliance with CDC Guidelines on face masks and social distancing.
City Commissioner Chip Ross spoke to the medical issues associated with the virus. He said, “Anybody can get it and transmit it. Nobody wants this disease. The long term effects of surviving the disease are not known.” Ross stressed that the virus is transmitted through the air, and risk of contagion relates to how long the exposure is and the distance between the infected person and others. While there is a lower risk for those social distancing and wearing face coverings in an outdoor setting, there is still risk.
City Commissioner Phil Chapman urged Commissioners and the public to look at the bigger picture. He said that no one knows how long it will take to bring the current situation under control. Adopting mandatory measures should be taken seriously to shorten that period of time. “I think Fernndina should lead in this effort — not just locally but for the state,” Chapman said. “How bad does it have to get before action is taken?”
Vice Mayor Len Kreger said he was “delighted” that Mullin had called in and endorsed the City’s effort. “It is critical that we do this now,” Kreger said. “Most people will do the right thing when they see the City has mandated it.”
Mayor John Miller said that those city businesses that have been following CDC guidelines will welcome the official mandate. This will give them an authority to cite if patrons object or claim that not all businesses have such requirements.
Commissioners asked the City Manager to get the word out to local businesses ASAP and explore other means to notify residents and visitors of City policy. Mayor Miller suggested using the public banner space across North 8th Street to promulgate the face mask requirement. Vice Mayor Kreger suggested that the electronic signs that monitor traffic speeds be programmed to announce the face mask requirement as well.
Commissioners decided that it is too late to contemplate closing the beaches for the July 4th holiday. However, they remained open to considering possible action should virus cases continue to trend upwards.
The Nassau County Board will meet at 7:30 this evening to discuss passing a similar mandatory measure.