The Status of the Mask Mandate in Florida

Photo+uploaded+by+Flickr+user+Gage+Skidmore.

Photo uploaded by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

David Collison

Currently, Florida does not require masks statewide but does recommend masks.

   With COVID-19 still a major presence in America, Florida is struggling to determine its plan in the coming weeks. Where Gov. Ron DeSantis has decided to proceed with the phases for reopening Florida, counties have each had a different approach to the reopening. 

   While Desantis has made it clear that he plans to let each county determine the mask mandate for themselves, with no statewide mask mandate, he has removed any punishments for failing to follow these measures. He stated in an interview with Forbes that a statewide mandate would “probably backfire”, but said that he supports the choices of local leaders. Some counties took this as an opportunity to remove their mask mandate, with Manatee County initially removing theirs before reinstating a requirement for masks within private businesses. Nassau County reacted similarly, as they initially extended it to Sept. 25 before voting to end it a few days before that deadline was met. They then instituted a requirement for masks when inside Nassau County buildings where social distancing is not possible and encouraged others to continue to do so outside of just those buildings. Importantly, while masks are not required anywhere else, private businesses may institute their own mask rules for customers to follow.

   Outside of those two counties, each other county had some form of mask mandate that has been either maintained or extended until later in the year. Some areas have had their mask mandates attacked, such as Jacksonville. In Jacksonville, Mayor Lenny Curry had extended the mask requirement for an extra 30 days, to which Jason French responded with a lawsuit. Represented by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, French attempted to get Circuit Court Judge Katie Dearing to issue a temporary injunction on the grounds that masks were a violation of privacy rights and were an ineffective measure in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

   During the case, Dearing said that “wearing a mask to prevent the spread of an airborne virus is no more intrusive than wearing a helmet” while riding a motorcycle, according to the Florida Times Union. She also said that French presented “opinion testimony” that masks are ineffective in slowing the virus, and that a judge is not supposed to answer that question.

   “It is not up to the court to determine whether masks reduce the spread of the virus, though there are many studies suggesting they do, including those cited by the city’s expert. It is no more the court’s job to impose a mask requirement on the citizenry based on these studies than to invalidate a mask requirement based on the opinion of plaintiff’s expert,” Dearing said when giving her court order according to the Florida Times Union. She also said that several other courts had upheld their area’s mask mandate, saying that they had rejected “virtually identical arguments”.

   Many places in Florida are going through similar situations, with mask requirements continuing to be an ongoing discussion. Key West especially has proven to be a melting pot of anger when it comes to the mask mandate. 

   According to the Guardian, many within Key West have been openly disregarding the current safety measures in place, such as social distancing or wearing a mask when failing to social distance in public. According to Jim Young, a safety code enforcement officer interviewed by the Guardian, under the original ordinance people had deliberately spat and coughed on his officers. Even under the new code, people are unwilling to follow the measures in place. The reporters were warned not to mention masks to anyone, as residents have been assaulted for doing so. A bartender who was interviewed has reported “near-riots” when people are asked to wear masks. One possible reason for such dissent is the area itself. Key West has allowed its bars to reopen, attracting tourists from other counties where bars are closed. When they meet code enforcement officers, they are often significantly drunk already. Another reason is simply anxiety raised by COVID-19. Tourism drives the economy in Key West, so the new code and it’s more relaxed rules encourages people to come and fuel the economy. However, as Mayor Teri Johnston said to the Guardian, “If we see even a hint of a spike we will be back with our original mask ordinance.”