Vero City Council fails to act to slow pandemic

Dr. Charles Callahan from Cleveland Clinic Indian River speaks to council members July 21, 2020, about the coronavirus. Callahan, an infectious disease specialist in Vero Beach, Fla., took questions from the council members before they made a decision on a mandate requiring people to wear a mask in public within the city limits. (Photo by Kaila Jones)

VERO BEACH — After more than three hours of debate on Tuesday the Vero Beach City Council failed to take any action on pursuing a face mask mandate within the city limits to protect residents from COVID-19 infection.

The main reason for this inaction was that most of the council members were not convinced that wearing face masks helps prevent the spread of the virus. 

“It needs to be based on clearer science than what we have,” Councilman Joe Graves said. 

The council heard from two top doctors from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital about the need to slow down the “geometric progression” of cases to preserve the hospital’s ability to care for all of its patients. But the crowd of anti-maskers who spoke from the podium seemed to sway the council more than the medical professionals.

There was no city ordinance on the table to vote on at the council meeting, just a sample ordinance from the City of Punta Gorda. So the council would have needed to direct City Attorney John Turner to draft an emergency ordinance or order to bring back to the council at a separate meeting, possibly a special call next week. 

In the absence of further action, the council’s June 30 emergency order still stands. That policy “strongly encourages” masks to be worn by residents while indoors in stores and restaurants, but only requires masks inside city facilities when social distancing is not possible, and when riding public transit. 

Photos by Kaila Jones

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