‘JUST WEAR THE DAMN MASK’: BOCC VOTE REQUIRES MASKS IN COUNTY BUILDINGS

Monroe County board members voted to require masks inside their buildings due to a spike in positive COVID cases. CONTRIBUTED

At the Aug. 18 Monroe County Board of County Commissioners meeting, “Just wear the damn mask” became a mantra among officials after hearing from the county’s board of health that COVID cases are rising, plus news that Commissioner Mike Forster was absent due to being in a hospital after testing positive for the virus. 

As a result, the four board members present voted to require staff members and the public to wear facial coverings inside all county buildings. Exceptions are being made for when social distance is possible and also when medical conditions prevent mask wearing.

A county press release published immediately after the decision stated, “These buildings include, but are not limited to, county government buildings, libraries, and building and permitting offices.” The board recognized exceptions for when people are able to socially distance 6 feet or more or for those with a documented medical condition or disability that prevents the wearing of masks. This applies to visitors and staff regardless of vaccination status and takes place immediately.”

The commissioners carefully discussed the type of language to use in their ruling, such as “requesting” masks versus “mandating” them, and also the finer points of adjusting the mask rule for people who have medical reasons for not wearing them, such as asthma.

Occasionally, officials would erupt in frustration at tiptoeing so delicately around a mask requirement in the face of the health department’s report a few minutes prior that showed a spike of positive cases.

“There’s a reason why we’re talking about this,” said County Administrator Roman Gastesi. “This is a fast-moving problem. I’m looking at the numbers, and it’s not good — 72, 74 cases a day? We’ve never been there. Something’s going on. Just to wear a darn mask? I mean, come on.”

“The more you can keep infected people from infecting others, the better we are. And a mask works,” interjected Bob Eadie, administrator for Monroe County Department of Health. “Just wear the damn mask.”

Kevin Wilson, assistant county administrator, stood up to say, “Wear the damn mask. Seriously…this is the time to step up and be leaders.”

The commissioners and staff also talked about meeting again soon to monitor the situation closely, following the example of the school board.

“I was impressed by the school board. They didn’t want to do it,” said Gastesi about the school board’s recent mask mandate. “They didn’t want to do it, you know that. I watched that meeting. And they got a little spooked. And they said, ‘Well, you know, let’s see it for two weeks, and then readdress it.’”

Mayor Michelle Coldiron suggested readdressing the mask requirement again in two weeks, at the Sept. 8 budget hearing.

Commissioner David Rice responded, “Let me say this. For something potentially as fast moving as we’re observing right now, I’m available for a meeting whenever we need to.”

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.