By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – The Palm Beach County Commission met today, Tuesday, June 23rd, and after two hours of public comment, voted by 7-0 in favor of mandatory mask order. This comes as Florida has seen a record surge of COVID-19 cases in the last week, with another 3,286 cases since yesterday.
Today Florida’s COVID-19 cases have reached a total of 103,503, with 3,238 deaths, an increase of 65 since yesterday. Palm Beach County has recorded a total of 11,180 with 476 deaths, an increase of eight lives lost in the same time period.
Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health, explained the current data available at the beginning of the meeting, and said “Public Health laws are to protect the public, for when emergencies like this occur.”
Adding, “So, no one’s trying to hurt anybody and everybody has their individual rights, nobody believes in individual rights more than I. However, this is about the public, this is what you’re doing to other people, and what you’re not doing to other people.”
“I wear my mask to protect you, you wear your mask to protect me. So, that’s the whole intent behind this. And I believe that there’s no room here for politics, there’s only room to fight the only enemy that we have here, the virus, not each other.”
The Committee listened for roughly two hours of public comment, some supporting the move, but many from people who passionately opposed the order. However those in support of wearing face coverings pointed out that the number of people in the room without any meant others refrained from entering.
In terms of enforcement, County Administrator Verdenia Baker, said, “Our goal is not to arrest citizens. It’s not necessarily to fine citizens. It’s to encourage citizens and help them help protect all of us to keep our county moving forward.”
Baker also said the order would mimic Miami-Dade’s order, and neither Broward nor Miami-Dade require masks for children under two, or people with chronic medical conditions who have difficulty breathing with a mask.
Not following the mask requirement is violating an emergency order, meaning a person could be fined up to $500 and spend up to sixty days in jail.
When it came to comments by the commissioners before voting, Vice Mayor and Commissioner, Robert S. Weinroth, said, “The goal has always been to encourage citizens to be responsible to take the actions that are necessary to stem the spread of this virus. And to keep our businesses alive.”
Later adding, “I hate the idea of talking about mandatory face coverings, it goes against my grain.[…] But the numbers that we saw this week were just out of this world.”
Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, said, “I had one request, I want any interaction, first interaction with law enforcement on this to be a positive one. So can we please prioritize the distribution of masks to law enforcement officers, so that they have an envelope of masks in their car and offer one to somebody.”
Commissioner Mack Bernard said, “we’ve asked the governor to go into phase two, but because of the fact that the numbers are going up, we’re not able to go into phase two.”
“So what we’re hoping to do is to slow the spread,” Bernard said. “So that way we can open up more businesses in the future for the county, and so that way we can reduce the unemployment rate in this county.”
“Because of the fact that we as elected officials are responsible for the health, safety and the welfare of over 1.5 million residents that lives in this county,” Commissioner Bernard continued, “so for these reasons, we have to do this and vote on this today.”
Shortly after the Commission voted 7-0 in favor, and County Administrator Verdenia Baker is to proceed with an executive order requiring masks or facial coverings to be worn in public places throughout Palm Beach County.
Exempted are persons age two and under and individuals with respiratory conditions that preclude the use of a mask. The order applies inside all buildings and outdoors when social distancing is not possible.
Palm Beach County’s Interactive Testing Map has over 62 testing sites, and can help residents find the closest private or community based testing location for them.