KEY WEST is in a state of masks confusion
The recent order from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called it “an act of executive mercy,” and removed fines and penalties imposed on those who violated mask ordinances or social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.
The order took effect immediately when the governor announced Phase 3 of the state’s reopening on September 25th.
While the order does away with fines for violations related to COVID-19, it did not address the elimination or continuation of actions that local communities have been taking, such as making it mandatory to wear masks when entering businesses and restaurants in Monroe County and Key West.
Monroe County’s Face Covering Ordinance is still in effect and can be enforced against companies that fail to comply with Monroe County Ordinance 026-2020. There will be no citations against individuals, but code compliance can still cite companies that do not require face-covering within the company, said Kristen Livengood, county intelligence officer.
Key West Mayor Teri Johnston told Keys Weekly that she interpreted the governor’s order in the same way as Monroe County officials did.
“It’s up to the individual companies, but they are violating our city’s emergency orders if they don’t need masks,” said Johnston.
Johnston asked Keys Weekly to “check with the City Legal Department if Key West businesses still need masks.”
When Keys Weekly posed this question to the City Legal Department, District Attorney Shawn Smith and Assistant City Attorney Nathalia Mellies replied, “We are giving our advice to the City Board.”
Johnston admitted on Sept. 30 that the governor’s September 25 announcement created significant confusion among business owners, residents and even officials.
“The only thing that has changed from my perspective is that people on the street will not be punished or cited for not wearing a mask,” said Johnston. “But we really have very few fines and have issued more warnings than anything else. There is so much confusion out there and people write and post things online without consulting any officials. “
The Key West Chamber of Commerce acknowledged the same confusion and wrote to its members: “The Chamber has followed the published judgments of the Executive Order of Governor DeSantis and we recognize that there are conflicting interpretations between the county and the city. At this point, our guide to masks is: Err on the caution side. For social distancing within a company: According to the governor, companies are allowed to operate at 100% capacity. If they want to stick to social distancing, that is the choice of an individual company. “
While the governor’s September 25 announcement of the removal of COVID fines and a reopening of Phase 3 continues to create confusion, bars in Key West greeted guests with a variety of security measures. For example, users of the Green Parrot Bar will have to use the smaller side entrance which is easier to monitor. MANDY MILES / Keys weekly
The only bright spot amid the confusion, the Mayor added, is that so many Key West companies want to continue to provide a safe environment for their employees and customers and therefore still require masks to enter.
“In fact, a local Facebook group called 5 Star Safety Reviews is listing various local companies that are continuing to adhere to mask requirements to let people know that safety is their top concern,” said Johnston.
Signs along US 1 in the Florida Keys continue to contain mask request messages when drivers enter the keys. And there are signs on the shop doors to wear a mask when entering. Those who eat in restaurants also have to wear a mask until they are seated.
On the executive order, DeSantis said it was time to end the penalties against people for social distancing and to work with them constructively.
“We are going to put all of these fines on hold in the hope that we can move forward in a way that is more collaborative,” he said.
Bob Eadie, Monroe County’s health officer, said individuals need to take responsibility for their own health. Wearing masks is one of the most important things you can do to prevent the spread, based on instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Eadie said.
“I think everyone should take this advice,” he said. “The governor was very clear that the pandemic was not going away. Infections still exist in Florida, but it has decreased a lot. “