In a proclamation issued Sunday afternoon, Apalachicola Mayor Kevin Begos has ordered the wearing of facial coverings indoors in businesses and other establishments, beginning Thursday morning.
The state of emergency proclamation will remain in effect on a weekly basis, unless either the mayor or a vote by the city commission rescinds.
The proclamation does not carry any penalties for violating its terms. "The fact is our outstanding police force cannot realistically enforce fines," Begos wrote, in a statement accompanying his issuance of the proclamation.
The rules, which go into place at 6 a.m. on July 2, will apply to all indoor establishments, and spells out that a facial covering includes any covering which covers the nose and mouth, whether store-bought or homemade, such as a mask, scarf, bandana or handkerchief. The proclamation also applies to all city buildings.
The proclamation carries an exception for those taking part in religious services. It also exempts children under age six, people eating or drinking in restaurants, persons walking, exercising, or sitting outdoors, including people on boats; those "who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition or individuals with a documented or demonstrable medical problem," those in their private rooms at a hotel, motel, vacation rental or other lodging establishment; and business owners and employees who are in "an area of a business establishment that is not open to customers or the public, provided that six feet of distance exists between persons."
The proclamation requires these businesses and establishments to post signage explaining the facial covering requirement.
In his statement, Begos wrote that "masks are one of the few tools elected leaders have left to protect citizens. We must contain the virus so that businesses can remain open.
"I know this is controversial, but the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases locally and statewide convinced me that masks are a public health necessity," he wrote. "There is still no vaccine, and all our previous sacrifices in closing businesses were not enough to stop the spread. COVID-19 does not go away in hot weather."
Begos wrote that Florida’s Surgeon General has said "masks do make a difference in controlling the pandemic."
The mayor acknowledged that some may "object to this level of government control," by acknowledging that his ancestors, who settled in America more than 250 years ago, included individuals who fought against the British in 1780 at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.
"Both my mother and father proudly served in the U.S. Navy. I value all our hard-won Constitutional rights," he wrote.
"Yet we face an invisible pandemic that threatens our most vulnerable citizens. Even one life lost in Apalachicola would be one too many," Begos wrote. "So I ask those of you who object to this order to consider all the sacrifices our parents and the generations before them made for us. I believe wearing a mask for a few minutes a day is a fair request to make."