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Fort Myers Beach Council contemplates mask enforcement, puts off fireworks

Polar Bear Dip canceled for New Year's Eve

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Oct 22, 2020

Mayor Ray Murphy said the town may need to step up enforcement of its mask mandate.

A debate over whether to hold fireworks on New Year’s Eve led to Mayor Ray Murphy raising the spectre of checking up on businesses to make sure they are observing the town’s mask mandate, which remains on the books.

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council, which canceled Fourth of July fireworks earlier this year and was holding off fireworks for a future date, agreed not to use them for New Year’s Eve though not before disagreement on the subject.

Councilmembers Dan Allers and Jim Atterholt voiced support for holding the fireworks, with Allers stating “people are educated enough now that they know what they are supposed to do and what they are not supposed to.” Atterholt said “people can be trusted to approach this in a safe manner” due to the outside nature of the event and educational efforts.

Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros said “I’m not finding that people know how to behave.” Hosafros estimated that staff at half of the restaurants she has attended are not wearing masks. Even at places like CVS where masks are mandated, she said the majority of customers are not wearing masks. “People are getting lax,” she said. “They are not listening to safety measures.”

Murphy said “we would like to think that they know what to do. All one has to do is look (at) the highest office in the land. A super-spreader in the Rose Garden … People do not know what to do or they just don’t care.”

The pandemic “is going to get a lot worse,” Murphy said. “This is not the time to let down our guard.” Murphy said the town hasn’t enforced its mask ordinance or issued fines, but said “maybe it’s time to start going into these establishments and see if these ordinances are being followed. Maybe it’s time.”

The council directed Town of Fort Myers Beach Manager Roger Hernstadt to see if the town’s contract for fireworks will be able to extend to next year at a lower expense than the $4,000 to $5,000 it would cost to store them until the next Fourth of July. The town has a $10,000 contract for the fireworks.

Councilmember Jim Atterholt suggested that if a vaccine was approved, the town should consider holding a fireworks event early in the year for another date before the Fourth of July.

Councilmember Bill Veach said the town is in a different situation than other neighboring municipalities, in that it is harder for people to spread out.

Murphy said he wants businesses to stay open and “play by the rules.” Murphy said social distancing, washing of hands and mask-wearing needs to continue in order to promote health. “I’m not in favor of cramming people in together (for fireworks),” Murphy said. “Not when we’re trying to fight this disease and this pandemic. It’s not worth the risk.”

Murphy also announced that he was informed that the annual Fort Myers Beach Polar Bear Dip will not happen this New Year’s Eve.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis opened up businesses last month to full capacity throughout the state and suspended previous fines relating to violations of local ordinances pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, his executive order does not prevent the issuance of new fines as Town Attorney John Herin Jr. has stated and the press office of the governor has confirmed.

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said “we are asking people to do the right things cooperatively, perhaps not because they absolutely have to but cooperatively because it’s in everyone’s best interest. We recognize that it is a minor hardship but it helps us avoid a major hardship and I can’t state that more emphatically.”

Hernstadt urged the public to “socially distance and wear a facemask.”