Florida Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to Palm Beach County COVID mask mandate

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TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court on Friday declined to take up a constitutional challenge to Palm Beach County’s decision last year to require people to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court, as is common, did not explain its reasons for declining to hear the case.

Opponents of the mask mandate went to the Supreme Court in February after a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal rejected their arguments. While the case was pending at the Supreme Court, Gov. Ron DeSantis blocked cities and counties from requiring people to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Palm Beach County issued an emergency order in June 2020 that required face coverings to be worn at businesses and government facilities, on public transportation and in other public places where social distancing was not possible. Days after the order was issued, five residents filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary injunction and raised issues such as alleged violations of privacy and due-process rights.

After a circuit judge ruled against them, the mask opponents went to the appeals court, where they focused on an issue of whether the order violated the right to refuse medical treatment.

But the appeals court, in a Jan. 27 ruling, said the Palm Beach County requirement “does not implicate the constitutional right to choose or refuse medical treatment.”

The Palm Beach County case was one of numerous challenges to mask mandates that were filed last year across the state.

A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in May overturned a lower-court ruling that had backed an Alachua County mask requirement. The Tallahassee-based appeals court stopped short of declaring the Alachua County requirement unconstitutional but sent the case back to circuit court.

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