SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Leaders in Seminole County announced Monday afternoon that residents will now be required to wear masks while out in public as an added measure to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Every person working, living, visiting or doing business in Seminole County is required to wear a face covering consistent with CDC guidelines while at all businesses, places of assembly and other places open to the public,” the executive order reads.
The mandate was signed Monday by Seminole County emergency management director Alan Harris. The order goes into effect Wednesday.
Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said deputies will enforce the order if necessary but he expects it won't come to that.
"We're going to come and we'll probably meet with a business owner and discuss things like trespass warrants," Lemma said. "A Correctional Facility or incarceration should never be an option for this thing. It is more dangerous to put somebody into the back of a patrol car and potentially introduce them into a correctional facility for violation."
Lemma said customers and business owners should respect the order and wear masks to stop the surge of new Coronavirus cases.
“I really think that we as a society should come together and make sure that as patrons we don’t go to businesses that are not following the rules,” Lemma said. “Can you imagine just for one moment the demands that would be placed on local law enforcement that already have an incredibly demanding schedule if we got called and responded to every person that wasn’t wearing a mask.”
Exemptions include those who are exercising, residents with certain medical conditions and children under 2 years of age.
Board of County Commissioners Chairman Jay Zembower said although mask mandates have been controversial in some areas, the move is meant to protect people and save lives.
“The face mask issue we hear a lot of debate about, ‘Well I shouldn’t have to wear that’ or ‘I don’t need to wear that’ or ‘You’re violating my civil rights.' Well the reality is we know it works,” Zembower said.
He compared not wearing a mask to putting on a mask and earplugs and walking across a busy intersection.
Ultimately, he said it boils down to asking residents to “do what’s right.”
Still he noted that some people might not be able to wear masks due to medical or mental issues so he asked that members of the public not pick fights or confront someone just because they don’t have a facial covering on. Instead he suggested just avoiding that person.
Dr. Sean Benoit, chief medical officer of Central Florida Regional Hospital, explained that the virus moves via respiratory droplets, which can be blocked by facial coverings.
“One study showed that in states that mandated face masks, and we have been following this for some time now, in states that mandated face masks and public use that there was a decline in the daily COVID-19 growth rate. So that’s something that’s very significant that you can actually see within the past few months. That growth rate has been less if they’re wearing face masks,” Benoit said.
Seminole County Medical Director Dr. Todd Husky said while cases are on the rise, the hospitals are not overwhelmed and they want to make sure it stays that way by taking action.
“There’s no hospital in Seminole County that’s really overwhelmed. Seeing increases, absolutely, and when you see a curve and it’s going up and up and up, you go ‘OK so at what point do we get into trouble?' You’ve all seen in the news that Houston is in trouble. Houston about a month ago wasn’t that bad. Not that bad at all. It just skyrocketed out of control. There was a time in New York where they had fewer cases than we have right now. They got the big curve, they got, they started going up like this. We do not want to be New York, we feel badly for them. Houston, we feel badly for them. We do not want history to repeat itself in Seminole County acuity, there’s been some talk about acuity,” Husky said.
The state has seen a noted increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. The statewide cumulative total sits at 146,341, with 2,477 of those cases in Seminole County.