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Pensacola City Council Unanimously Passes Mask Ordinance

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Meeting Tuesday in special session, the Pensacola City Council voted unanimously to both extend the local state of emergency, and to require face coverings inside buildings within the city limits.

Before the vote on mandatory face masks for businesses in the city limits, Council President Jewel Cannada-Wynn gave Pensacolians a pep talk of sorts about complying with what many call the “new norm.”

“This is one of those occasions where we’re asking citizens to voluntarily come together like they normally do, so we can address this pandemic,” said Cannada-Wynn. “And we can provide a safety we need for each other. We do this – this is what we do in our community – and we can continue to do that.”

Wearing face coverings and social distancing, Mayor Grover Robinson and the council convened the roughly 90-minute session in an otherwise empty chamber.

“There is nothing that I am happy about having to do this ordinance; I’m looking forward to rescinding it as much as any of you,” said the mayor. “But I think we’re going to have to get our [case] numbers down to a strategic point that we can bet back to where we were in April.”

The mayor made one last pitch for the mask mandate, saying things were going relatively well amid the pandemic – until about two weeks ago.

“Through the middle of June, our numbers were not out of control; they were very much in line, and very consistent, and we working this thing [to] flatten the curve – exactly where we needed to be,” said Robinson. “We’re not looking to close businesses; we have sort of a choice. We can close businesses, again – and I don’t think I, and I don’t think the council wants to do that. Or we can ask you to wear a mask.”

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Credit City of Pensacola
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Prior to hearing from each other, the council took telephone comments from about 15 residents, whose opinions were split.

Under the ordinance, fines begin at $50 for the first violation; going up for each additional offense up to a fourth violation which carries a fine up to $500 and possibly 60 days in jail.

After the vote, the panel dealt with some procedural issues, including changes to the list of who would be exempt from wearing a mask. A full list of exemptions can be found at cityofpensacola.com. Councilman John Jerralds – a retired respiratory therapist – said in response to some of the callers that ordering masks to be worn was not the mayor’s idea.

“It has the support of the health community – Baptist Hospital, Sacred Heart, and West Florida – and it’s based largely on the fact that the numbers are going up – they’re going out of sight,” said Jerralds. “It’s important that grown-ups behave like grown-ups; in taking care of themselves as well as their children.”

“One of the reasons I support this is that my district has the most of the cases,” said Councilwoman Ann Hill.

“We have people dying in the nursing homes in District-6, and we have people getting sick in District-6,” Hill said. “This isn’t a philosophical discussion; to me, it is life and death. I believe these masks are going to save lives.”

And Council Vice President Jared Moore boiled down the mask controversy to one basic issue – the support of local businesses.

“And if we can take a small, inconvenient step of putting a scrap of cloth over our face to help keep many of our businesses within the city operational; keep our economy operating in a safe manner,” said Moore. “I think we should be eager and grateful to just be able to strap a scrap of cloth over our face and go about as close to a semblance of normal life as possible.”

The council also voted 7-0 to extend the mayor’s state of emergency declaration – scheduled to expire on Wednesday – until the next council meeting on August 13.

And Mayor Grover Robinson reminded residents outside Pensacola, such as Escambia County and Milton—where a similar mask order was withdrawn by that city council – that the order applies to anyone entering a business inside the Pensacola city limits.