JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that everyone wears a face mask in public in April, there is no federal mandate requiring people to do so.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have mandatory face mask requirements in public spaces, but not Florida or Georgia. As coronavirus case numbers increase sharply this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis has continued to resist requiring face coverings.
“I just don’t think that that’s a reasonable thing, certainly under penalty of law, to do,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “I would definitely encourage people when you’re in, whether it’s a business situation, like in a restaurant. In terms of forcing that under penalty of criminal law, you know, we’re not going to be doing that. I think it would be applied unevenly and I just don’t think it would end up working at the end of the day. We should be trusting people to make good decisions.”
Some major Florida cities have decided to take action locally. A mandatory non-negotiable order is now in place for residents in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orange County. Every person in a public place must be wearing a face mask.
The measure was implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Health officials have reported record-breaking spikes in the number of cases coming in from medical centers and testing sites in recent weeks.
Orange County was the first to make face coverings mandatory. The county, which includes the city of Orlando, said face masks apply to visitors. Mayor Jeff Demmings said the order applies to any person “living, visiting or doing business” in the county.
“We have been deliberate at this phase of not saying that it carries a criminal penalty because that’s not the goal,” Demings told WKMG-TV. “In the world that we live in now with the potential conflict between law enforcement and the community, we’re certainly not trying to create an environment where we want law enforcement to get into enforcing, what I call, maybe minor violations of law or rules.”
Tampa’s Mayor implemented a similar mandate that goes into effect Friday. The Tampa order applies to all indoor locations outside the home. The city said it would provide masks for people who don’t have one.
St. Petersburg will also require face coverings as of 5 p.m. Friday.
Miami requires face masks in restaurants unless seated at a table, when going to and from the beach, at dog parks. The city of Fort Lauderdale requires people to wear a face-covering when inside any essential business or service amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Monroe County -- the Florida Keys -- also requires face coverings.
There isn’t a requirement to wear a mask in Jacksonville but Mayor Lenny Curry continues to urge urges people to wear them in public.
“I have always said that we should be social distancing and wearing masks. As we are seeing right now, without these precautions, the community spread is real,” Curry said in a statement released Friday. “For example, there are people in crowded bars and walking on crowded streets who are not wearing masks and ignoring social distancing.”
Florida health officials reported Friday a record-shattering 3,922 new COVID-19 cases in just 24 hours. It was the third record one-day increase set this week. The state reported 188 new hospitalizations and 43 new deaths Thursday alone because of the novel respiratory virus.
In Jacksonville Beach, where dozens of customers and employees of bars and restaurants have tested positive in the last week, Mayor Charlie Latham said he wasn’t ready to require masks-wearing -- yet.
“I think we might get to a point here ... where we will strongly recommend that mask be used,” Latham told News4Jax on Friday. “We’ve been working very close with Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Mayor Curry to put these decisions together jointly so we’re all working on the same sheet of music. And quite honestly, we haven’t discussed masks yet. But since the recent peaks, that’s certainly on the table now.”
People out in the community have mixed feelings about masks.
“I would feel more comfortable and safe if everyone were required to wear a mask,” Jackie Casey said.
“I would say to each his own but I don’t think there is a downside to it,” Chuck Haddad said.
Those out Friday not wearing masks also have their reasons. Some said there is too much misinformation; others say it’s just not always necessary”
“Not out walking around in the street. Not talking to someone. But maybe in close quarters with us being (with)in six feet, obviously,” Rolando Martinez said.