JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A day after Jacksonville enacted a mask mandate for indoor spaces, St. Johns County leaders declined to take it up.
After discussing it for hours, only one county commissioner, Henry Dean, wanted a mandatory indoor mask policy. The other four did not second the motion.
While they’re not required in the county, they are still required in indoor public buildings in St. Augustine city limits.
“I don’t think anyone has the answers today to provide a definitive answer that will be effective, will be enforced and will protect everybody,” Commissioner Jimmy Johns told News4Jax.
He said he wanted to hear from the county’s health department leaders about the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“The only problem is that we don’t want to give somebody a false sense of hope,” he said. “If it turns out that a specific mask is not effective and give someone a feeling that they are healthy and that they are doing what they should be doing.”
Leaders heard from a number of members of the community for public comment.
“I think we need to mandate the mask at this point because, unfortunately, the masks are not intended to protect the individual. They were intended to protect the people that are around them,” said Eric Peterson.
“The fact of the matter is that cloth masks do absolutely nothing to reduce the spread of infectious diseases,” another caller claimed.
“A bigger concern of mine and many is the lack of ability to enforce the current guidelines, let alone any new guidelines,” a woman told leaders.
As of Tuesday, St. Johns County had 948 confirmed coronavirus cases with a 12.6% positivity rate, according to the Florida Department of Health. But hospitals are not overwhelmed, leaders said.
The economic impact has been huge. Tuesday, the owners of Bogey Grille in Ponte Vedra announced they’re shutting down after 16 years, blaming COVID-19.
Commissioners also voted 2-3 against requiring county employees to wear face coverings.
Commissioners can take up the idea again later and they said they will if they get more information and feel the need to vote on masks again.
They did vote to extend the local state of emergency for another week.
There is no mask mandate in St. Augustine Beach, the county’s only other municipality. Commissioner Dylan Rumrell told News4Jax there’s an emergency meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss it.
Neighboring Duval County put a mask mandate in effect Monday evening, following a string of record or near-record days of new coronavirus cases.