In advance of the July Fourth weekend, the City of DeLand has passed an emergency ordinance requiring people to wear face coverings while in indoor businesses in the city.

The emergency ordinance, adopted this evening, Thursday, June 2, by the DeLand City Commission with a 4-to-1 vote, requires the wearing of masks inside nearly all establishments in the city, with a few exceptions.

The move follows the adoption of similar ordinances in Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach in recent days.

For violating the ordinance, people will incur a $25 fine on the first offense, $50 for a second offense and $100 for a third and subsequent offense.

Before any fines are issued, a person will be warned and asked to comply or explain how they are exempt from the ordinance. Among other exceptions, those with medical issues preventing them from wearing a mask will not be required to follow the new rule.

The ordinance does not include any criminal penalties for not wearing a mask.

Explaining the urgency of the situation, Assistant City Manager Michael Grebosz said the city had some 405 cases of COVID-19 recorded within its bounds.

“Seventy-five percent of the cases that have occured in DeLand have occured in the last two weeks,” Grebosz said, citing data from the Florida Department of Health.

The new rule also requires businesses in the city to post notices telling would-be patrons that a mask is required for entry.

The city’s rule doesn’t apply to medical facilities, governmental facilities and schools, as City Attorney Darren Elkind said such establishments typically have mask rules of their own.

The law does, however, include places of worship as business establishments included under the ordinance.

The ordinance goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, July 3, and expires automatically if the governor’s state of emergency regarding COVID-19 is rescinded, or if the Volusia County Council passes its own uniform mask ordinance for the entire county.

“We want this to be an educational component mostly. We want compliance,” said Grebosz. “Obviously ... we would want to make sure people are doing this as voluntarily-based as possible, but we’re not looking to make any funding off of this. This is purely for the public health and safety.”

More than 20 citizens signed up to speak at the emergency meeting, nearly universally against the proposal. Some commissioners, however, said their emails and other communications with constituents indicated a majority are in favor of requiring masks.

The objections of the speakers varied, but many called the law unconstitutional and said it would put business owners and even pastors in an awkward position of enforcing the ordinance.

“It’s not the government’s job to dictate my healthcare,” said Walt Rubin. “It’s the government’s job to protect my rights.”

Others pointed out their own health issues which would prevent them from wearing masks.

“People need to breathe deeply, which I’ll do now, but you can’t, because you’re wearing masks,” said Peggy Moulton-Abbott, one of the speakers who challenged the city’s logic for adopting the ordinance. “... When you enact such an ordinance, what you do so you vilify someone like me. I have asthma in my past … wearing a mask can literally kill me.”

Some accused the city and other governments of bullying people into wearing masks.

“I’m not going to wear a mask just because I’m being bullied into it,” said Thomas Abbott. “I’ve been verbally accosted in stores, even one business downtown here, for not wearing a mask. Now I have to be looking over my shoulder to make sure people aren’t going to be calling the police on me.”

Others pointed out the supposedly “waffling” advice given by some governmental entities, like the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization, who early on in the pandemic called for masks to be reserved for medical workers and not worn by normal individuals.

Scott Price, a Downtown DeLand business owner and former city commissioner, called for something that would encourage, rather than require, people to act responsibly.

“I bet you never thought this would be a thing we'd all be dealing with. I think a mandate though, I encourage you not to do,” he said. “I think it's a mistake. It's going to be hard to enforce something like this. But the worst thing you're going to do is you're going to pit citizens against each other, because it's going to create fear.”

Still, at least one speaker favored the ordinance, and said its exceptions made it a fair law.

“While this action may not be popular with a vocal minority in the city, the ordinance as crafted is fair and makes reasonable accommodation for protected classes,” Jonathan Walters said.

City Attorney Darren Elkind said that beyond requiring a sign be posted, business owners and pastors would not be required to enforce the ordinance.

City Commissioner Jessica Davis, who recently recovered from COVID-19, said she had received a lot of emails from residents — some of whom were hesitant to attend the meeting due to social distancing — mostly in favor of the ordinance.

“I understand many of the things that you all stated. And it’s a tough decision … but the deaths that are happening, they’re rising, Florida’s stats are rising,” said Davis. “From experience, the battle is not something that any of you would like to go to. I am absolutely for wearing a mask for obvious reasons.”

“To help slow the spread, and for all of you to not go through what I went through, you should be thanking us,” she added.

DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar said his position was moved in the direction of supporting a mandate was the fact that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had to order the closure of bars after they had been reopened, as people were apparently not voluntarily practicing social distancing and other safety measures.

“The last thing that DeLand, Florida, and Florida and the United States can stand, is another massive closure,” Apgar said. “ … The point is, we are not getting a sufficient amount of compliance.”

Apgar compared the mandate to previous regulations put into place to protect the public, from seatbelt and children’s car seat mandates in cars, to the banning of smoking in some public places. He also said that the ordinance did not put an undue burden on business owners.

“The only requirement on the business owner is to post the notice,” he said.

The only commissioner against the mandate was Kevin Reid, who said while he believes everyone should wear masks, the mandate was flawed.

“We have a mandate in front of us that does nothing for outdoor traffic, which our Downtown is riddled with. Friday nights, you’ve got the [Artisan Alley] Farmer’s Market, and people are just walking up and down the street.”

He also said that while so many people are out of work, the measure shouldn’t have a financial penalty attached to it. Reid favored an educational campaign about masks, instead.

“I’m not against masks,” he said. “I hope through education and open communication, some of like what the county is doing … that we could potentially get some that are opposed to masks to, as a sign of respect for their brothers in common and citizens and neighbors, that they might wear a mask at a grocery store.

Vice Mayor Charles Paiva moved to impose the ordinance, and Davis seconded the motion. The ordinance passed 4-1, with Reid dissenting.

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