ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Saturday was the first day people in St. Augustine were required to wear face masks inside public buildings where social distancing isn’t possible.
In response to the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in Florida and in St. Johns County, the St. Augustine City Commission on Friday voted to approve a resolution requiring face coverings inside businesses and other buildings open to the public.
People do not have to wear face masks outside, as the City Commission turned down a suggestion to require that masks also be worn outside in crowded areas such as St. George Street.
Friday’s vote came after commissioners listened to more than two hours of wildly different comments. Commissioners ended up suspended public input and unanimously passed the resolution.
Many against the requirement say wearing a mask should be a personal choice.
Those in favor say public safety should overrule personal choice.
“Yes, it’s personal. But at the same time, if you use common sense --obviously, I’m not using common sense right now because I don’t have one on -- but, yes, I think common sense should overrule everything and you should have a mask on,” said Brent Allen, who supports the face mask requirement. “You’re looking out for everybody else and not just yourself.”
There are exceptions, including for those with medical conditions, while people are eating and drinking, during exercise, for children under age 2 and where people are working and can maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet.
The requirement went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and will last as long as St. Augustine is under a state of emergency for COVID-19.
It is enforceable as a civil infraction, and those in violation could be subject to a $500 fine.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that he still doesn’t plan to issue a statewide order requiring face masks. He said that is best handled at the county and city level. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has also said he doesn’t plan to issue a mask mandate.
Elsewhere in Northeast Florida, between Friday and Wednesday, Nassau County Code Enforcement will begin visiting businesses to see if Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and mask recommendations are being followed. If businesses don’t voluntarily comply, the county is considering issuing an executive order making it mandatory.