Even with Florida reopening, you’ll have to keep wearing your mask

            Florida might be reopening everything in the state, but coronavirus masks will be with us for a while in South Florida.

            Palm Beach County said Friday that it will send a new round of free masks to every household in the county. The same day, Broward and Miami-Dade counties emphasized that they’ll be insisting people wear masks regardless of what the governor says.


            It’s been a week since Gov. Ron DeSantis declared that Florida had made such progress against COVID-19 that counties must open all businesses and stop collecting fines for violating mask orders.

            Despite his assurances, South Florida officials remain wary that the virus will resurge. They reemphasized Friday that masks are the best tool to fight a second wave of the coronavirus, even if the public remains divided over whether masks are an intrusion on individual rights.


            “The most effective tool to combat the pandemic coronavirus is a mask,” Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner said Friday, citing guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We’ve all talked about it, heard about it, worn it for many months at this point. We know how important it is to continue to utilize this important weapon.”

            In Broward County, Mayor Dale Holness said people are still expected to wear masks and they’ll be cited if they don’t. The governor’s order does not prevent citations, only fines.

            Miami-Dade County also has said it will keep citing people but will postpone fines until later.

            Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber called the governor’s order a “Rorschach test” that the city is still trying to sort out. The order left South Florida officials perplexed about how to fight a disease without rules in place.

            “The governor’s order surprised everyone,” Gelber said.

            The mayor said he sent a letter to DeSantis asking, “Why would you hamstring our ability to enforce mask usage, that does not impact the economy at all? It’s not like a curfew or capacity limit. It’s just a mask." He said he did not hear back from DeSantis.

            In Palm Beach County, all homes will receive a second free supply of masks — two reusable, two disposable — paid for with money from the federal coronavirus relief act. The first order of 2.5 million masks in July cost about $4.7 million.

            “Palm Beach County is at, what I would say, a very important point in our fight against the pandemic," said Mayor Kerner, joined at a news conference by other government leaders and health officials.

            “We are in Phase 3; we have our schools open; we have our entire economy open without restrictions at this point. ... But it’s also a fragile time in Palm Beach County. So with all the success that our residents have brought, it’s so important to maintain the success, maintain the stability.”

            The mayor expects that most people will continue to comply with the county’s mask-wearing ordinance — he called it “a way of life” — even if the state removed the ability to fine violators.

            “The compliance has been awesome, and we really appreciate as we go into this phase, of really stability, that we continue to wear the masks,” Kerner said.

            “It’s unfortunate we have to continue to wear masks, but really at the end of the day when we talk about, you know, civic obligations, I think we’ve all realized it’s not really that hard of an obligation," he said. "And it’s so effective.”


            Broward Mayor Holness suggested that the disease could tick upward soon, based on advice from medical personnel on a private call Friday. Broward County mayors also took part in the call, but it was closed to the public.

            “The theme from our doctors and our hospitals was that we should expect a surge with the spread of the virus in the next few days," Holness said. “We opened up last Friday, and it takes about 14 days for us to really see the full impact of that opening.”

            He had the same message for people who complained at a news conference about the county’s latest coronavirus rules, which state that all establishments must close by 11 p.m.

            “What about nightclubs?” one person demanded. “The nightclubs don’t open up until 10 o’clock. You do realize that?”

            Holness responded: “As we see improvements, we will open more. But we have to control the spread of this virus before we really start opening more.

            "School is going to be opening soon. That’s more activity that will cause the spread of the virus. We opened up last Friday; that will cause the spread. When we watch the data to see where we are, if there’s a spike or if there is no spike, then we can do more easing and do more opening.”

            Holness also pointed out that Miami-Dade County has a curfew in effect while Broward does not.

            Marc Freeman can be reached at mjfreeman@sunsentinel.com and on Twitter @marcjfreeman.