Is Palm Beach County’s mask mandate effective if its leaders aren’t abiding by it?
That’s the question posed by a frustrated county commissioner Tuesday after public officials were photographed without masks at a big event last weekend.
It also sparked a debate over when the county should repeal the mandate.
On Saturday, Delray Beach Market held its grand opening with numerous officials on hand, including Gov. Ron DeSantis. In pictures posted on the governor’s Twitter account, hardly any masks were visible during the event. Four county commissioners — County Mayor Dave Kerner, Robert Weinroth, Maria Sachs and Mack Bernard — were among the people shown maskless at the event.
While she didn’t call anyone out by name, County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay voiced her concerns about the effectiveness of the mask mandate, which commissioners put in place 10 months ago.
“I am a little frustrated. I don’t want to hide that,” McKinlay said. “We’re in a very bad position right now. We’ve been getting the emails all weekend since the governor’s event down in Delray Beach.
“We are leading by example, and I have seen photos from events, other fundraisers, and if we’re going to have a mask order in place, then we need to abide by it. I’m wondering exactly how effective we think this is.
“Obviously it’s the best practice right now and we’re not out of the woods, but in reality, if we can’t enforce it and can’t abide by it, what purpose are we serving?”
Palm Beach County originally instituted its mask mandate in June, including fines for those who ignored the order. However, Gov. DeSantis later revoked the ability for local governments to collect fines. The mask mandate has remained in place, with commissioners and health officials recommending mask-wearing as the best way to curb the spread of COVID-19.
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While Dr. Alina Alonso, the state health department director for Palm Beach County, acknowledged McKinlay’s concerns, she said it still remained the best tool they had in fighting the disease.
“I think the mandate sets an example of what we expect to do,” Alonso said. “It’s kind of like what you teach your children. You’ve got to walk the walk, because your children are going to follow you. And I think our community has followed us.”
Weinroth acknowledged he was “guilty as several of the people on this dais” for not wearing a mask at Saturday’s event, but said he thinks they’re nearing a time when they need to “release our grip” on local restrictions.
“At some point, even with the virus in the background, we’re going to have to say that people are going to have to make their own decisions on if they want to wear a mask or not,” Weinroth said.
“I think we have to recognize people have a right to make decisions on their own. Florida made the decision that people don’t have to wear helmets when they’re riding a motorcycle, even though I think everybody would recognize that’s probably a pretty silly thing to do. But we also recognize that people have a right to make a decision.
“I think at some point we’re going to have to step back and let our residents make a decision that’s right for them.”