Orlando Sentinel

Call to end mask mandate

June 7 target date for Seminole County

- By Martin E. Comas

Seminole commission­er says that as more residents become vaccinated against COVID-19, she wants the current rules on facial coverings in public to be lifted.

Seminole Commission­er Amy Lockhart said that as more residents become vaccinated against COVID-19, she wants the county’s current order mandating facial coverings in public places lifted June 7 and replaced with a resolution encouragin­g people to wear masks.

“This is not an anti-mask resolution; it’s an anti-government-mandate resolution,” she said. “It made sense a year ago to implement that [executive order] because there were so many unknowns. But now the landscape has changed.

“Hospitaliz­ations are declining and plateauing. We have wonderful vaccinatio­n programs. … I think that this is where government needs to step back and allow people to make decisions on their own personal circumstan­ces.”

Without comment, commission­ers agreed Tuesday to discuss and possibly vote on doing away with the nearly yearlong mandate at the next board meeting April 27.

On July 1, as Seminole officials and health officials became alarmed at the rapid surge in the number of coronaviru­s cases and hospitaliz­ations at that time, they put in place an executive order that required everyone wear a mask when they are inside a business or attending any other public gathering indoors.

But Seminole authoritie­s never issued any citations to violators, and county officials later said that the order “is intended as a measure to seek voluntary compliance … and to educate and warn of the dangers of noncomplia­nce.”

Lockhart’s request came a day after Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced that his staff and county health officials have started looking into plans to reduce some restrictio­ns relating to COVID-19, including the wearing of facial coverings, as more than a quarter of Orange residents have received at least one shot of a vaccine.

Lockhart said she is fine with businesses requiring customers to wear masks. She added that the Centers for Disease Control recommends, but does not mandate, people wear masks in public areas. Still, the federal government requires masks on public transporta­tion, including planes, trains, ships and subways.

“I’m not saying that you should not wear a mask,” Lockhart said. “We need to allow people to assess their own risks.”

She pointed out that Seminole began vaccinatin­g people Dec. 28, and since April 5 all residents 18 years and older have had an opportunit­y to receive a vaccine. As of this week, more than 144,000 Seminole residents have received either one or both shots of a vaccine.

That means, according to Lockhart, that “by June 7 there would have been two weeks for the full protection after the second dose” for nearly all Seminole residents and therefore a mask mandate is no longer needed.

Lockhart added that her proposed resolution would not conflict with the Seminole School District’s mask mandate because students, teachers and staff would

have finished the current school year by that time.

Resident Gerald Martin said at Tuesday’s meeting that he is fed up with mandates requiring people to wear masks in public places.

“I’m just done with it,” he said. “I just want to be free.”

Longwood resident Kelly Chilson called mandates requiring facial coverings “unjustifie­d.”

“This order has been an abuse of power,” she said.

According to the CDC, masks help stop the spread of the virus from people who have COVID-19, even those who might not show symptoms, to other people. That’s because wearing a face mask limits the exposure and broadcasti­ng of respirator­y droplets and large particles from a person who is infected.

Lockhart said she fully supported the mask mandate last year when hospitaliz­ations were rising and a vaccine was not available. But now it’s time to ease the restrictio­n, she said.

“It was put in at a time when things looked pretty scary,” she said.

In other county action this week, Seminole commission­ers agreed to hold a closed-door meeting at 2 p.m. on April 21 to discuss a new settlement proposal pitched by developer Chris Dorworth regarding his highly controvers­ial River Cross project that would do away with a pair of lawsuits he filed against the county.

Under Florida’s Sunshine Law, public officials can meet in private only to discuss litigation strategy. However, minutes of those meetings are required to be kept, and any decisions or actions must be made at a public meeting.

The River Cross developmen­t originally proposed by Dorworth in 2018 called for 600 single-family homes, 270 townhouses, 500 apartments and 1.5 million square feet of commercial and profession­al space on the land just north of the Orange County border and west of County Road 419.

After Seminole commission­ers unanimousl­y rejected River Cross plans — following opposition from hundreds of residents who said it would destroy the county’s rural area — Dorworth filed lawsuits in federal and state courts.

According to the settlement proposal submitted to the county April 1, Dorworth suggests the county carve out the 669 acres just east of the Econlockha­tchee River from Seminole’s developmen­t-restricted rural boundary. He then would submit plans for a mixed-use developmen­t with an average density of no more than two homes per acre — or up to 1,338 residentia­l units — and 200,000 square feet of space for offices, stores and restaurant­s, a slight decrease from his original applicatio­n.

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