Lakeland business trains employees in de-escalation techniques as mask mandate continues

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – With the City of Lakeland’s mask mandate extended for at least another month, conversations about de-escalating potential confrontations are continuing in Lakeland businesses.

Lakeland city commissioners voted to extend the mask mandate through Sept. 8.

Disgruntled residents called in to Monday’s Lakeland city commission meeting to persuade commissioners to kill the mandate.

“We do not appreciate the fact that you’re trying to run us around this city like dogs with muzzles,” said one caller.

“If you want to wear a mask in public, go ahead but don’t force me to,” said another.

“Business owners are viewed as the bad guys since they are the enforcers of this order,” said one caller.

Chasity Sorrell, a supervisor at Black & Brew Coffee House and Bistro in Lakeland, knows all about being an “enforcer.”

“It’s all about keeping a smile on your face, keeping a calm voice and letting them know that you’re only here to keep them safe,” she said.

Sorrel calls herself a “middle man” between a city ordinance she did not pass and customers who do not want to abide by it.

“It’s taught me a lot about the mannerisms of our customers. How you approach them is everything,” she said.

She learned that skill from de-escalation lessons given by Chris McArthur, the owner of Black & Brew.

“We have had situations where employees have been yelled at. But our employees have done a really great job of de-escalating, not arguing, listening to the customer,” he said. “Basically reinforcing the idea that kindness usually can disarm the grouchiest of customers.”

McArthur tells 8 On Your Side, beyond the initial de-escalation lessons, he reminds his employees several times a week to watch their body language, their tone and their volume when reminding customers to wear masks.

“The idea was to help our staff understand how to handle situations before it exploded into something that could be potentially dangerous,” he said.

Dr. Joy Jackson, the director of the Dept. of Health in Polk County, told commissioners she is pleased with the current coronavirus trends in Polk County and Lakeland.

The positivity rate, the percentage of COVID-19 test results that are positive and hospitalizations are improving, she said.

“Research is favoring individual mask-wearing as well as policies wearing universal masking,” she told commissioners ahead of their vote Monday. “If I had my way, I would like us to make no changes because I think we’re making significant gains.”

Lakeland Regional Health is reporting a lower rate of increase in COVID-19 cases over the last couple of weeks.

“I think we can attribute much of that to a greater number of residents slowing the spread of the virus by wearing masks,” Lakeland Regional Health President and CEO Elect Danielle Drummond, MS, FACHE, said. “We will continue to monitor our cases and hospitalizations and collaborate with city and county officials so they can continue to make informed decisions going forward.”

She said the hospital is grateful the commission continued the mask mandate.

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