Gov. won’t order masks statewide
But DeSantis says local mandates are OK with him as virus cases rise
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.