The Indian River County Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday NOT to impose a mandatory mask ordinance for citizens in all public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. The decision followed several hours of public testimony and discussion where a majority of speakers argued that the law interferes with personal freedom, would be difficult to enforce, and may not do much to stop the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.
County Commission chairwoman Susan Adams advocated for a mask ordinance to protect public health, citing comments by County Health Department director Miranda Hawker and Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital President Greg Rosencrance that COVID cases are escalating so rapidly in the county that local medical facilities could soon be overwhelmed.
“What is the threshold of us sitting back, wringing our hands and not doing anything?” Adams said. “This has become political. I don’t think public safety and public health should be political.”
Commissioner Peter O’Bryan joined Adams in voting in favor of the law, and tried to tweak its language to include issuing warnings to violators before imposing fines and eliminating the possibility of jail time, in order to persuade his fellow commissioners to vote in favor. But that effort went nowhere, and commissioners Bob Solari, Tim Zorc and Joe Flescher banded together to block a mandatory mask mandate – a public health protocol that has been shown in an overwhelming number of studies to effectively slow the spread of COVID-19.
Commissioners decided instead to maintain until Sept. 15 an emergency order now in effect requiring employees in buildings open to the public and all visitors to county buildings to wear masks. Children under age 6 are exempt. Violators would first be issued a warning, but a second offense would result in a $25 ticket, followed by a $50 citation for a third offense.
Photos by Kaila Jones