Do Commissioners Bennett & Buchanan Love Winter Garden?
Monday, January 18, 2021
Winter Garden Commissioners Bob Buchanan and Lisa Bennett maskless during a December meeting.
WINTER GARDEN, December, 30, 2020—If you’ve been on Plant Street in downtown Winter Garden lately, you can’t miss the giant WE LOVE LOCAL placards. Show you care, they implore passersby. Please Wear a Mask! Let’s Keep Winter Garden Open for Business.
It’s a commonsense message, what with Florida the third state in the nation to surpass 1 million Covid-19 cases. And the message really underscores Winter Garden’s pull-together community spirit. Wear a mask, and dammit, we will survive this pandemic until it’s our turn to get the vaccine, and we'll do it without gutting the downtown that took nearly 20 years to build.
But apparently that message has been lost on Winter Garden Commissioners Lisa Bennett (District 1) and Bob Buchanan (District 2). During the crowded City Council meeting on December 14, neither wore masks. Or rather, they both donned masks to have their picture taken with retiring Fire Chief Matt McGrew, then they took their masks off for the remainder of the two-hour meeting.
I asked Commissioner Bennett why she wouldn't wear her American Flag mask — which she had no difficulty putting on during the photo op — for the entire meeting. Her response: “I’m sitting down, like in a restaurant.” I pointed out she wasn’t eating. Her answer: “I’m drinking water.”
I'll let you ponder the obvious — that it's possible to lift up your mask to take a drink of water. Bennett refused all questions after that. Commissioner Buchanan did not respond to repeated phone call and email requests for comment.
Folks, this is bad on so many levels. Not only are the optics terrible since it appears the commissioners can’t be bothered to support their city’s own LOVE LOCAL marketing initiative. But as elected officials, not wearing masks shows a stunning lack of leadership during a pandemic that is now killing up to 4,000 Americans a day. For context: That’s more than were killed on September 11th. Every. Single. Day.
Apart from the human cost of life, there is also the law to consider. A mask mandate, which has the force of law, has been in place since June. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings issued the mandate for masks to be worn indoors and outside when social distancing isn't possible to curb community virus transmission. In September, after a lawsuit was brought in by State Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R), challenging the mandate's legality, Ninth Circuit Court Judge Lisa Munyon upheld Demings' executive order as constitutional and legal.
If you still have trouble wrapping your brain around mask mandates, think for a moment about second-hand smoke. Smokers know cigarettes kill. There's a warning from the Surgeon General right on the package. Still, smokers are free to light up. But they aren't free to harm others with their second-hand smoke. That's why there are laws prohibiting smoking indoors.
Same reasoning applies to masks. Wearing a mask protects others, not ourselves. My mask protects you; your mask protects me. When we mask up in public, we say to those around us that we care enough about our fellow citizens not to unknowingly expose them to a potentially lethal virus. Because even if we feel fine, we may still be carrying and spreading coranavirus, which has now mutated into an even more contagious, faster-spreading form. Florida leads the country in new variant cases, the Miami Herald reported.
When city commissioners — the people we elected to serve the public good — refuse to wear masks in crowded venues, it not only demonstrates a shocking disregard for their constituents’ welfare, it's also a giant middle finger to Winter Garden’s business community.
To be sure, balancing local business needs with pubic health requirements during a pandemic — especially when you have a community that's so reliant on drinking and dining — is delicate stuff. Especially when even the Trump White House Coronavirus Task Force chided Florida that “mitigation efforts must increase” and recommended “no indoor gatherings outside of immediate households.”
Meanwhile, we can see the effects of Gov. Ron DeSantis's No Restrictions approach to the pandemic in real time as the state’s Covid-19 caseload continues to skyrocket like a SpaceX shuttle. Of the more than 1.6 million Floridians with Covid-19, 4,777 call Winter Garden home. That's 2,181 more neighbors with Covid-19 than there were last month. So, yes, this is a balancing act worthy of a Cirque du Soleil performer.
Winter Garden needs a healthy economy. We want to keep our favorite eateries and bars and coffee shops — all the spots that give Winter Garden its charm. If anyone would get that, you'd think it'd be Lisa Bennett whose district includes the downtown business district. She should be banging the drum the loudest for mask-wearing. A healthy economy requires a healthy community. People on ventilators don’t tend to dine out much.
So, Commissioners Bennett and Buchanan, show you care. Please wear a mask! Let’s keep Winter Garden open for business.
Update Janaury 15, 2021: Commissioner Bennett wore a mask over her mouth at the January 14th City Council meeting. However, scientists have known since April that the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 enters the body primarily through the nose. That's where the protein receptors that the virus latches onto in order to replicate like to hang out. Not covering the nose is like the proverbial screen door on the submarine.
"It doesn’t really make sense if you’re putting on a mask, to not be putting a barrier on the nose," Waradon Sungnak, lead author on the study that discovered the virus entry point, told Discover. Still, it's ... something. One meeting-goer noted this was the first time all of the attending commissioners (Buchanan was absent) wore masks.