Following a five hour discussion on December 3, 2020, the Naples City Council, by a 4-3 margin, voted not to opt-in to the Collier County face mask mandate. This decision came despite the recommendation of their own staff, the Chief Medical Officer of the NCH Healthcare System and the Executive Director of the Collier County Medical Society that they adopt a mask mandate. Those opposed to the opt-in were Mayor Heitmann, Vice-Mayor Hutchison and Council Members Gary Price and Michael McCabe. Those who voted in favor of the opt-in were Council Members Ray Christman, Paul Perry and Ted Blankenship.

GSAC President Jim Melican appeared before the Council and advocated for the opt-in. A copy of the statement he delivered follows below:

Good Morning, Madam Mayor, Vice-Mayor Hutchison and Members of the City Council:

My name is Jim Melican, and I am appearing this morning as President of the Gulf Shore Association of Condominiums (GSAC). I believe you all already know that GSAC is supportive of a face covering mandate, whether it is achieved by opting-in to the Collier County Executive Order, or by adopting the resolution which the City’s staff has drafted.

I am not going to reiterate the points I made in the e-mail that I sent to each of you on Monday morning. You are all aware of the COVID-19 numbers and understand the arguments – – -on both sides. But because you have been engaged in virtually non-stop meetings for the last three days, you may not know that, just yesterday, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that, in his view, the next three months are “going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.” He also said that “before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans” dead from the virus. With regard to face masks, he said: “The truth is that mitigation works. But it is not going to work if half of us do what we need to do. Probably not even if three-quarters do.”

On November 20, the CDC updated its Scientific Brief on “Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread” of COVID-19. Its concluding sentence is “Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.”

Last Saturday night at about 8:30 p.m., after having dinner at Bha!Bha! on Fifth Ave. South at Tamiami Trail, I walked west the length of Fifth Ave. South to Third Street South. On a conservative estimate, 75% of the people I encountered, though often in close quarters, were not wearing masks. On the way back I approached a Police Officer who was standing with a bicycle in front of Yabba Restaurant and remarked to him that I was surprised that so few people were wearing masks. His response was — word for word — “Face masks are not needed in Naples. Only people in rural Collier County are required to wear masks.”

Is that the message that we want to be conveying to the thousands of people who will be returning to, or visiting, our City during the next four months? In just the last two weeks, from November 19 to December 2, the number of reported COVID-19 cases in zip code 34103 – – where all of the GSAC member associations are located – – has increased by 18% [317 to 376]. The City of Naples is, as we want it to be, a magnet for people to visit and enjoy during what we all call “the season.” But this season will be unlike any other that we have previously experienced. The health of the public – – residents and visitors alike — MUST be this Council’s paramount responsibility and I respectfully call upon you to disregard the attempts to politicize this issue, and instead follow the science and listen to the medical advice you are getting and impose a mask mandate.