To Mask or Not to Mask – That Is the Question in Florida

Jun 24, 2020

Credit Gilbert Mercier/Flickr

Gov. Ron DeSantis is again rejecting the notion of a statewide mandatory use of face masks to protect against the coronavirus – despite a massive increase in such cases.

For the fifth time in six days, Florida has topped the 3,000 mark in new COVID-19 cases.  As of Wednesday, Escambia County recorded a massive jump overnight, increasing 88 positive cases for a total of 1,312. Santa Rosa increased 16 cases, bringing its total to 371.

Speaking in Orlando, Gov. DeSantis tried to convince Floridians that the spike is less of a concern than the raw numbers might suggest. He calls on everyone to stick with practices in place since Phase-1 of reopening began last month.

“It’s still important to maintain the appropriate physical distance; to exercise good hygiene – wash your hands,” the governor said. “It makes a difference. And then it’s also important when you can’t socially distance and keep that six-feet wearing the face mask can help reduce transmission.”

The suggestion to don a mask is just that —  a suggestion. About 15 states have statewide mandatory masking policies to protect against COVID-19, but Florida is not one of them.

“My view, a couple of things — one, I think you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar; I think that when some people get ordered they don’t do that,” said DeSantis. “That’s why we did that in May; we thought that would be a better way to go about it. And then also when you attach criminal penalties to something, you’ve got to enforce it. And the questions is, in some parts of Florida is that really a good use of resources?”

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking in Orlando on not requiring Floridians to don masks to protect against coronavirus.
Credit Florida Politics

A number of counties and cities around the state have implemented their own mask requirements in certain situations. They include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and St. Petersburg, along with Orange County, which includes Orlando. Little steps, said the governor, are what are needed.

“The things that are the most effective are doing the basic hygiene [and] practicing the basic social distancing,” said DeSantis. “If you can’t social distance, [then] having the mask to cut down on transmission. Those are all very easy things to do that will make a huge difference.”

But the governor insists that the varying numbers of corona cases, depending on where you are in Florida, makes a “one size fits all” mask requirement a moot point.

“We’ve got a big, diverse state; the outbreak is not uniform,” the governor said. “Even now, that you see more cases in Orlando that we did March, April, May – the demographic in terms of the age is different than what we’re seeing in like, Dade County. So I’ve encouraged the locals to fashion those policies that fit their communities, and I think that they’ve done that.”

Many Floridians, says DeSantis, have also undergone changes in their perspectives since the first COVID cases in the state were reported in early March. By mid-May, the pandemic had taken a back seat to other developments.

“Obviously we had the big [police] protest, we had some other stuff going on in the country; and I think a lot of folks, particularly the younger folks just kind of thought,’ COVID’s behind us,’” said DeSantis. “And now that this is something that is more back on the front burner; now that you have local officials involved in doing some of this thing, I think the message being sent. And I do think people are going to respond positively to it.”

“COVID is one of those things that we’re simply going to have to learn to live with; and so the precautions that you can take in taking care of your health are probably the most vital,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson, during his Facebook appearance on Wednesday from City Hall.

While not making masks mandatory in the city limits, he is asking that residents put them on when going out, saying the current tourist season brings its own challenges.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson urges residents to mask up, but falls short of mandating them inside the city limits.
Credit City of Pensacola

“It’s not just what’s here in Escambia and Santa Rosa [counties], but it is also being a venue for people to come from all over continues to expose us to those kinds of things,” said Robinson. “But I think if you continue to wear your mask; wash your hands, and be socially distant as best you can when you’re in a public setting, then those are the cases we’re seeing.”

Robinson maintains that asking people to wear a mask is not political on his end. But he tells those reluctant to cooperate that they can use them to create their own statements, political and/or otherwise.

“Here’s the deal — perhaps if you’re trying to keep [President Trump] and get him reelected, then you should do that,” said the mayor. “If you don’t like the president and you want [Joe] Biden, you need to do a mask that does that. Do whatever it is that you feel to be representative. Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way; maybe we should have everyone think about what it is, and what they want to express going forward. This mask allows you to do it.”

Robinson did say there are exceptions in the mask advisory issued by the Florida Department of Health. Children under age two, and adults with medical conditions not conducive to face coverings.

“You’re out walking, your our exercising, you’re socially distanced from other individuals – that is not a case when you need to have a mask,” said Robinson. “By yourself in your own car you don’t need a mask. But, if you are with other people, especially inside a building with other people, all city buildings require a mask to be worn.”

Monroe County, the Florida Keys, also requires face coverings until June 1, 2021. That applies to businesses and other public settings where there is a roof overhead, both visitors and staff.