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Monday, June 14, 2021

Ocala City Council overrides Mayor Guinn’s veto of controversial mask ordinance

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn

A mask ordinance is now in effect in Ocala after the City Council voted Wednesday to override Mayor Kent Guinn’s veto of the controversial measure.

The Council voted 4-1 to override the veto that Guinn filed Monday on the ordinance, which originally was passed on Aug. 4. Guinn, who oversees the city’s police department, said officers will try to comply with the mandate but noted that it falls extremely low on the department’s priority list. And recently, the Department of Health in Marion County reported that close to 50 percent of the county’s population could be at risk of catching COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions that include heart disease, diabetes, COPD, obesity and chronic kidney disease.

The ordinance was first introduced by Councilman Matthew Wardell and supported by Council President Pro-Tem Justin Grabelle and Councilmen Brent Malever and Ire Bethea Sr., who reportedly suffered from COVID-19 and had been taking part in meetings by telephone. Council President Jay Musleh opposed the ordinance but said he’s in favor of face coverings and encouraged all Ocala residents to just “wear your damn masks.”

Ocala Council members are hoping the ordinance will help slow the spread of the deadly virus. On Wednesday, the city was reporting 5,402 cases – 79.5 percent of the 6,798 cases in Marion County, where 104 deaths have occurred and 518 people have been hospitalized.

Under the emergency ordinance, all businesses located in the city limits must require customers to wear masks that cover the nose and mouth. The ordinance expires in 60 days and can be repealed by City Council at any time.

City leaders are hoping to seek voluntary compliance with the mandate and are asking businesses to comply with the following measures:

  • Post signs, in a visible and front-facing location, notifying all persons of the requirement to wear a face covering before entering the premises;
  • If a public address system is available, verbally announce the face-covering requirements;
  • Require employees to wear face coverings unless they are exempt based on the list below; and
  • Make a reasonable effort to inform those who enter without a mask of the requirement.

The ordinance, which Guinn has referred to as symbolic, may result in penalties against businesses that aren’t complying, but those establishments will be given an opportunity to voluntarily comply. If that doesn’t happen, a violation can be issued in the form of a non-criminal infraction that will include a verbal warning for the first offense, a written warning for a second offense and a $25 fine for third and all subsequent offenses.

Several categories of people are exempt from the ordinance. Those include:

  • Children under the age of seven;
  • People who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition or those who are otherwise unable to remove their own face coverings without assistance;
  • 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 religious beliefs or practices conflicting with the wearing of a facial covering;
  • People physically exercising while observing at least six feet of distancing from another person;
  • People consuming food or beverages inside a restaurant;
  • Business or restaurant owners and their employees who are in a publicly restricted area. However, the area must allow employees to safely distance themselves from each other;
  • Medical, dental or other healthcare facilities or offices where mask wearing will be regulated pursuant to guidance specifically focused on those job requirements; and
  • People who are separated from any other person by means of barriers such as plastic face shields, plastic or glass barriers, or other devices that effectively prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

The requirement to wear face coverings doesn’t apply inside homes or vehicles, nor anywhere outside. But public health officials are strongly encouraging residents to wear face coverings outside when six feet of social distancing can’t be maintained. Face shields are an acceptable substitute for those with conditions that may prevent them from properly donning a mask.

To read the full emergency ordinance, click HERE.