Gov. won’t or­der masks statewide

But DeSan­tis says lo­cal man­dates are OK with him as virus cases rise

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Tiffini Theisen, Gray Rohrer and Lisa J. Huri­ash

TALLAHASSE­E – As new cases of coro­n­avirus rise in Florida, lead­ers of the state’s largest ci­ties and coun­ties are re­quir­ing res­i­dents to wear masks in pub­lic, some­thing Gov. Ron DeSan­tis has rec­om­mended but not man­dated statewide.

Or­ange County Mayor Jerry Dem­ings wrote to DeSan­tis ask­ing for such an or­der af­ter he opted to re­quire masks in his county, but the gover­nor on Fri­day called it a “lo­cal de­ci­sion” that he wouldn’t im­pose across Florida.

“They have ev­ery right to do that. They’re then re­spon­si­ble for the en­force­ment of that,” DeSan­tis

said in Miami. “Our view has been to have crim­i­nal penal­ties would not nec­es­sar­ily be the right thing to do.”

Dem­ings’ or­der, which takes ef­fect Satur­day, does not in­clude any penal­ties for vi­o­la­tions. It al­lows peo­ple to re­move their masks while eat­ing and drink­ing in pub­lic places and ex­empts any­one ex­er­cis­ing out­doors.

Florida set a daily record for the fourth straight day Fri­day with 3,822 re­ported cases of coro­n­avirus, which causes a dis­ease called COVID-19. DeSan­tis has at­trib­uted the spike to an in­crease in test­ing and more pos­i­tive test re­sults in younger peo­ple as the state re­opens and peo­ple get out into the work­force again. More­over, hospitals have enough ca­pac­ity to deal with the up­surge, he said.

But the rise in cases has alarmed lo­cal gov­ern­ment and

health of­fi­cials through­out the state.

Tampa Mayor Jane Cas­tor or­dered masks be worn in her city on Thurs­day, with ex­cep­tions for chil­dren un­der 2 years old and en­force­able with a civil ci­ta­tion. Pinel­las County com­mis­sion­ers di­rected their at­tor­neys on Wed­nes­day to draft an or­der re­quir­ing busi­nesses with work­ers in­ter­act­ing with the pub­lic to wear masks.

In Broward County, fa­cial cov­er­ings must be worn by pa­trons in pub­lic in­door spa­ces and by all food work­ers, ex­cept while eat­ing and drink­ing. A vi­o­la­tion is a sec­ond-de­gree mis­de­meanor sub­ject to fines up to $500 per vi­o­la­tion, im­pris­on­ment up to 60 days, or both.

In Miami-Dade, masks are man­dated in pub­lic for pa­trons and food work­ers but do not have to be worn on the beach un­less peo­ple are un­able to so­cial dis­tance. There, a vi­o­la­tion of the mask law is a mis­de­meanor with a fine of up to $500 per vi­o­la­tion, jail time of up to 180 days, or both.

And vis­i­tors to the Florida Keys will need to bring along face masks or face a $500 civil fine for a year to come. The Mon­roe County Com­mis­sion now re­quires ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers, to wear face cov­er­ings in any es­tab­lish­ment through June 2021.

The Florida Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion on Fri­day re­acted to the in­crease in cases by urg­ing peo­ple to wear face cov­er­ings in pub­lic in line with Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion guide­lines and call­ing on lo­cal gov­ern­ments to re­quire them to be worn.

“The sci­ence is clear. Asymp­to­matic infected in­di­vid­u­als can re­lease in­fec­tious aerosol par­ti­cles while breath­ing and speak­ing,” FMA pres­i­dent Ron­ald Gif­fler said in a re­leased state­ment. “Not wear­ing a mask or face cov­er­ing in­creases ex­po­sure, whereas univer­sal mask­ing greatly re­duces the spread of vi­ral par­ti­cles.

“The mes­sage is sim­ple: For the sake of your health and the health of ev­ery­one around you, Florida’s doc­tors want you to wear a mask.”

Rep. An­thony Sa­ba­tini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, is su­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing Or­ange County, over the mask or­ders, and also wrote to DeSan­tis on Fri­day ask­ing him to is­sue an ex­ec­u­tive or­der restrict­ing ci­ties and coun­ties from is­su­ing civil and crim­i­nal penal­ties to those who defy the or­di­nances.

Sa­ba­tini called the or­ders “dra­co­nian and broadly writ­ten emer­gency or­ders of du­bi­ous le­gal­ity.”

DeSan­tis said he wants peo­ple to wear masks with­out an or­der or the threat of gov­ern­ment en­force­ment.

“A lot of this is vol­un­tary com­pli­ance,” DeSan­tis said. “You’re just not go­ing to be able to po­lice ev­ery sin­gle group of peo­ple ev­ery sin­gle time.”

Desan­tis made his com­ments in re­sponse to re­porters’ ques­tions af­ter a meeting with health of­fi­cials in Miami to em­pha­size that the spread of in­fec­tions is trending among younger peo­ple who of­ten show no symp­toms and don’t always need the same level of med­i­cal care.

DeSan­tis said the median age has fallen to 37 statewide for pos­i­tive coro­n­avirus test re­sults with Fri­day’s up­date.

In Or­ange County, for in­stance, Fri­day’s re­sults showed a median age of 29 for those test­ing pos­i­tive. In Semi­nole County, it was 26, he said.

“It’s go­ing to con­tinue to go down based on what we’ve seen over the past sev­eral days,” he said.

Ad­dress­ing hos­pi­tal bed avail­abil­ity, which has been a con­cern through­out the pan­demic, DeSan­tis said the state has twice as many avail­able now as at the beginning of March.

Over the week­end in Or­ange and Semi­nole coun­ties, more than 80% of gen­eral and ICU beds were in use, but of­fi­cials said lo­cal hospitals con­tinue to have enough ca­pac­ity to han­dle any po­ten­tial COVID-19 surge.


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