Concerned about a spike in cases among both inmates and staff at Franklin Correctional Institution, Carrabelle city commissioners voted unanimously last week to strongly encourage businesses to require customers wear masks when inside.
The commissioners stopped short of drafting measures that would mandate the wearing of masks, but each voiced strong feelings that masks should became commonplace as the city deals with a growth in confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The resolution will include language asking businesses to post signs urging customers to wear masks. The Chamber of Commerce has already begun passing out its own signs to local businesses asking that customers wear masks.
“This is a controversial topic,” said Mayor Brenda La Paz, after two area citizens, Debi Jordan and Jon Johnson, spoke out strongly in support of some type of measure to boost mask wearing. City Attorney Dan Hartman said a mandate could be enacted by the commissioners, if they so chose.
"For goodness sakes we all have to wear clothing but people just don't want to wear masks,” said La Paz. “It’s unfortunate we have to have an ordinance to ask someone to protect their friends and neighbors.
“I don’t mind wearing a mask. When I go in a store I wear a mask to protect my friends and neighbors and I hope they would do the same for me,” she said.
Still, the mayor echoed the views of her colleagues that there simply were not sufficient police officers to enforce a law requiring masks.
“We know we don’t have staff to enforce it,” La Paz said. “I would expect they would receive a lot of calls as to what are the penalties and citations for people.
“The enforcement is the main issue,” she said. “We have a skeleton police crew. We would have no effective and efficient way to enforce that ordinance. We have one police officer per 12-hour shift.
“I suspect we (would) have plenty of complaint calls that people aren’t wearing masks,” La Paz said, noting that such calls would take officers away from such duties as stop speeding, rounding up stray animals or preventing acts of vandalism.
The commissioners heard from Jordan and Johnson, who live and work in the Carrabelle area but do not reside within the city limits, who urged them to take steps in light of the apparent community spread that has befallen FCI.
As of Tuesday morning, the prison had 624 of its roughly 1,200 inmates in medical quarantine, defined as being separated because they may have had close contact with a person who has tested positive or exhibited symptoms of an infectious illness.
Within the inmate population, 304 had tested positive, 876 negative, and 21 were awaiting test results. In addition, 15 staffers had tested positive.
All inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 are placed in medical isolation, under the care of their treating clinician, said a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections. Once recovered, these inmates are moved into appropriate housing based on their care and custody requirements, they wrote.
“We need to remember we have employees of that prison,” said Jordan. “I see them every day at the IGA, and at the Dollar General (where) employees are masked. They do have a sign.
“We need to try to be more diligent about the spread of this disease,” she said. “It is deadly. At the IGA, I’m sorry but it’s horrific. Employees don’t wear a mask, the only step is to stay six feet from the register. It’s not getting wiped down.
“We need to care about the community,” Jordan said. “Right now there’s a refusal to look out for everybody’s health and safety.”
Johnson urged the commissioners to consider putting the law behind any request to wear masks.
“Other cities and counties and states have required masks and they saw new cases drop,” he said. “It is not theory, it’s something we know saves lives, and has helped the economy.
“Laws and rules don’t make everyone do it but it does make most people do it,” Johnson said, noting that laws are on the books requiring motorcycle helmets and forbidding drink driving.
“To not do something could cost others people’s lives and well-being,” he said.
Johnson noted that several local businesses are essential. “People need essential supplies they don’t have the means to go shopping in Apalachicola,” he said. “That’s different than a restaurant (where if) they don’t require masks, you can go somewhere else.
“Why not do whatever we can as an incentive to wear masks?” Johnson said. “At least require masks in essential places like the Dollar Store and the IGA.”
Hartman said he would have to research how a mandate could be tailored, but said a law could be passed mandating the wearing of masks indoors. “Certainly commercial retails,” he said.
“Legally we can do it. Enforcement of it with our limited ability to enforce it is another ball of wax,” Hartman said.
“This thing is climbing very fast, we need to find out what’s going on and what we can do to stop it,” said Commissioner Cal Allen. “That’s what we have here, a life-and-death situation. Let’s have each business put something on the door that we really encourage the wearing of masks. The museum has that on its door.”
Commissioner Tony Millender supported a measure to “strongly encourage (and) strongly suggest they wear masks. This virus issue is becoming more and more serious.”
Commissioner Frank Mathes noted that he wears a face mask when he goes out. “To protect my little heinie, not other people,” he said.
“Encouraging it, that’s about all we can do,” said Commissioner Keith Walden. “We don’t have the manpower to enforce this.”
Tamara Allen, who runs the museum, said there is a box of masks on a table there “so she can say ‘Would you please wear this?’ Some people may not even have one.”
City Administrator Courtney Dempsey said the emergency management office has provided the city with “a big box of masks that we could hand off to businesses.”
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Carrabelle urges masks as FCI cases spike