On the day when Ocala reported 4,316 cases and 12 deaths related to the COVID-19 virus, the Ocala City Council passed a highly controversial emergency ordinance mandating the use of face coverings for indoor locations throughout the city.
Several speakers on both sides of the issue became emotional Tuesday when speaking about the ordinance. One suggested it was a violation of his Constitutional rights, while another said it should be up to her to make that decision.
One speaker who said his girlfriend works in the healthcare field implored the Council to approve the ordinance. He said she has been forced to social distance herself from him because she could have been exposed to the virus.
The ordinance was introduced by Councilman Matthew Wardell and supported by all of the councilmembers except Council President Jay Musleh. He cast the only no vote but made it clear that he’s in favor of residents wearing face coverings to protect others, saying residents should “wear your damn masks.”
The ordinance calls for customers and employees to wear face coverings in local businesses. It also calls for the business owners to “ensure” that customers adhere to the requirement. Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership, opposed that requirement of the ordinance. Sheilley, who wore a mask while speaking to Councilmembers, said individuals should be held accountable if they don’t follow the measure, not the business owner. He likened it to a motorist being cited for not wearing a seat belt instead of the vehicle’s manufacturer, such as Chevrolet or Toyota.
Business owners will be required to post signs about the requirements for face coverings. The penalties for violations of the emergency ordinance include:
- First offense (verbal warning that includes education about the dangers of non-compliance);
- Second offense (written warning);
- Third and all subsequent offenses: (Fine of $25).
The ordinance will not apply to:
- Children under the age of seven.
- People who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition or those with a documented or demonstrable medical problem.
- Public safety, fire and other life safety and healthcare personnel, as their personal protective equipment requirements will be governed by their respective agencies.
- People exercising while observing at least six feet of distancing from another person.
- Restaurant, bar or theater patrons while eating or drinking. They are required to wear the masks while entering and exiting the businesses, while using the restroom facilities and when they are standing in the establishments and unable to maintain at least 6 feet of distancing.
- Business owners, managers and employees who are in an area of a business that isn’t open customers, patrons or the public, provided that 6 feet of distance exists between the persons. The exception doesn’t apply to employees who are working in kitchens or other food and beverage preparation areas.
- Medical, dental or other healthcare facilities or offices, as mask wearing in those facilities will be regulated by those facilities.
- People who are separated from any others by means of barriers such as plastic face shields, plastic or glass barriers, or other devices that effectively prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
- People inside a lodging establishment, including but not limited to a hotel room, motel room, vacation rental unit, timeshare unit or similar unit.