No changes coming to county mask ordinance

No added restrictions with New Year's approaching

Signs were installed on poles earlier in the year to inform the public to wear masks. FILE PHOTO

Monroe County commissioners made no changes to an ordinance that remains in place regarding the wearing of masks when people can’t social distance or when they’re inside a business or restaurant. 

No discussions were had on any added restrictions with New Year’s Eve approaching. 

Commissioners and a few county staff members met in person for a regular scheduled meeting at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo. Remaining staff and departments tuned into the meeting via Zoom. County Attorney Bob Shillinger said the agenda item, a public hearing to consider revisions to ordinance No. 32 of 2020 regarding the county’s mask ordinance, is placed on every agenda to be “nimble and respond to any needed changes.”

“We don’t have any particular changes to recommend at this time,” Shillinger told commissioners. “The process of scheduling a hearing and whatnot, we put it on so that we can respond if necessary. If there’s no desired changes, we just let it sit. We don’t take action.”

A brief discussion followed, which ended with commissioners agreeing to keep the ordinance as is. Commissioner Eddie Martinez asked if anything at the county has superseded any of the governor’s orders. Shillinger replied that the county isn’t doing anything contrary to that. 

An executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis in late September that entered Florida into a phase 3 recovery made it so local governments couldn’t collect fines for COVID-related violations against individuals. But he did not preempt the ability to have those violations or to charge for them. And businesses could be held liable if they’re found to be in violation of the mask rule. 

Commissioners’ decision in maintaining the mask order comes as county emergency operations related to COVID-19 enters its 44th week. The county’s still operating under a statewide and local state of emergency. Confirmed cases in Monroe County since March total 3,641, or roughly 4% of the total population. Weiner said new cases for December are averaging 32, which is around the same number seen the month before. In October, average new cases were around 14. 

“We continue to see an upward trend in new cases right now,” county Emergency Management director Shannon Weiner said. 

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Percentage of positive tests in the county is 9%, which is also the statewide rate. In November, percent positive tests were 11% and 8% in October. 

Weiner also reported 31 new COVID positive cases among students, in addition to positive cases for four teachers and 10 school staff, the past eight days. 

Lower Keys Medical Center had two patients with COVID in-house, while Mariners and Fishermen’s had none as of Dec. 9. Average COVID hospital counts for the last week is five, she said.

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