For most of them, the short answer is no, at least for now. Instead, like Gov. Ron DeSantis, they are opting for voluntary guidelines.
But, late Friday, County Commission Chair Bryan Lober announced that he will propose that individuals be required to wear face coverings while in businesses, except for when they are eating or exercising, until either the local state of emergency ends or until modified by the County Commission.
Lober cited concerns about a potential shortage of hospital personnel because they are becoming infected with COVID-19, as well as a recommendation from Health First’s chief physician executive.
Other county commissioners and city officials, meanwhile, say they wear masks themselves, and want to encourage and support others to so as well, but have not pushed for mandating masks.
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The County Commission on Tuesday plans to discuss the issue of the potential for a face covering or a face mask policy, during a special meeting that begins at 1:30 p.m. The meeting will be held with public comments via videoconferencing from the County Commission chambers on the first floor, and the county commissioners meeting in the Florida Room on the third floor of the Brevard County Government Center, 2725 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Viera.
Brevard has seen three days of triple-digit growth in cases. On Friday, the county broke a record in number of new cases, with 148 cases, for a total of 1,297.
Lober — who has been the most vocal among the five commissioners in pushing for county measures designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus — said he has been closely watching health care data in determining whether the county should require people to wear masks in public.
“We cannot, under any circumstances, allow local hospitals to run dangerously low on ventilators, hospital beds, gloves, face masks or trained personnel,” Lober said Friday night.
“While we are not presently at risk of depleting supplies to unsafe levels, I was made aware that a situation is worsening, which I firmly believe requires the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners to take preemptive preventative action.”
Lober said that, for the first time since this crisis began, “we are facing mounting hospital personnel shortages — largely on account of these front-line workers becoming infected with COVID-19 and unable to return to work while potentially infectious. While we are not at immediate risk of running out of medical personnel, should we sit idly without taking necessary action, we are at risk of this potentially happening in four to six weeks.”
Lober said that, after speaking with emergency medicine physicians on Friday, “it is clear we must act to ensure we do not run into a situation where demand for emergency medical services may outpace availability of those critical services. Decisions regarding necessary governmental action must be based upon science, data, and expert epidemiological opinion, not upon lay opinion or political pressure. “
In a statement that accompanied Lober’s announcement, Dr. Jeffrey Stalnaker, Health First’s chief physician executive, said: “Health First believes a universal masking policy will help slow the spread of this terrible virus, and protect the health of your loved ones and neighbors. Wearing masks will also preserve our ability to treat patients who are ill and safeguard the health of our medical professionals on the front lines providing care.”
But commissioners other than Lober thus far have not indicated they are ready to mandate face coverings when residents are out in public, such as in a store or on a public street.
County Commissioner Kristine Isnardi, who is a nurse practitioner, said she believes encouraging the wearing of masks, “especially in protection of the medically vulnerable or compromised, is the responsible way to move forward.”
But she added that she would be hesitant to push for Brevard County to mandate that members of the public wear masks — a step some other Florida counties and cities have taken, including neighboring Orange County.
“In my opinion, there needs to be a balance,” Isnardi said. “The sick or at-risk population should do everything to protect themselves and minimize their risk of exposure, while others should be cognizant that their own behaviors may unintentionally expose others. It really boils down to personal responsibility.”
Lober said he continues to encourage face masks when social distancing isn’t possible.
“Individuals must make their own risk assessments and determine the level of risk they are comfortable assuming,” Lober said. “For those in higher-risk categories, the acceptable level of risk may be rather low. Individuals should also remain mindful that their personal decision may well impact others.”
Melbourne Mayor Kathy Meehan said residents and businesses should adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommend mask-wearing when out in public, along with social distancing.
But she is not ready to push for mandated mask-wearing in the city.
“It’s up to the businesses and individuals,” Meehan said.
Meehan said, if the jump in coronavirus cases got really bad, the Melbourne City Council might hold a special meeting to further discuss the issue. But she doesn’t think things are currently at that point.
Titusville Mayor Walt Johnson said the issue could be a topic of a future City Council meeting there.
He believes residents should wear masks out in public to protect older people and others who may be vulnerable from the spread of the coronavirus because of a medical condition.
But Johnson said that without its own health department, Titusville relies on state and county health experts for direction in regulating mask-wearing or in business practices related to the coronavirus.
Anita Stremmel, assistant county Health Department director for the Florida Department of Health in Brevard County, said her department “continues to promote the use of face masks and other actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing, washing hands frequently, and staying home when sick and when asked to do so by local or state officials and public health authorities.”
Dr. Scott Rivkees, Florida’s surgeon general and state health officer, on June 20 issued a “public health advisory” that “all individuals in Florida should wear face coverings in any setting where social distancing is not possible,” with a few exceptions. The exceptions include individuals under age 2; those who have a medical condition or disability that prevent wearing a face covering; or those who are “engaged in outdoor work or recreation with appropriate social distancing in place.”
DeSantis this week continued to reject the idea of statewide mandatory masking policy, saying: “I think you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
In Palm Bay, City Manager Lisa Morrell on Monday sent an email to city employees, saying that, “as leaders of our community, I am requesting all city employees adhere to the guidelines and use a face covering in public, per the Florida Department of Health advisory. This is especially important in areas where social distancing cannot be sustained; examples, common areas of congregation, hallways, meeting rooms, in-person public encounters and field crews working in close proximity where physical barriers are not present.”
County Commissioner John Tobia said mask-wearing should be left up to the individual, unless mandated by DeSantis and his administration.
“We just need to leave that up to the experts in Tallahassee,” Tobia said.
Tobia said he has received about 15 emails from residents in recent days, asking that the county consider mandating face masks.
His written response to them: “We are following the governor’s directives, as the office of the governor has access to the data and expertise necessary to make such decisions. Should the governor decide to mandate masks in any setting, Brevard County will enforce this measure.”
County Commissioner Curt Smith — who is over 65 and has underlying health conditions that put him at greater risk — said he has resumed wearing a face mask while out in public, as the local coronavirus cases increase. He also has temporarily shut down his district office in Viera. He and his staff are working remotely.
But he said he’s not pushing for a masking requirement in the county — even though he believes it’s a good idea to wear a mask in public.
“We need to be vigilant,” Smith said, while adding: “I’m not ready to impose my feelings on somebody else.”
Parts of this article from Florida Today