OCALA, Fla. – Following a tug of war over a mask mandate for businesses in Ocala, the city council overrode the mayor’s veto of a mask order on Wednesday, pushing the ordinance through.
Last week, four out of five Ocala city council members voted in favor of requiring mask use inside indoor businesses and fining a violator $25 upon their third offense in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The rule would not apply to those eating or drinking, anyone under 17, anyone following social distancing rules, anyone separated by a barrier or partition and those with certain health conditions.
On Monday, Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn vetoed the measure. Then on Wednesday, during a special meeting over Zoom the city council voted to override the mayor’s veto putting the mask mandate for indoor businesses in action.
Public comment during the meeting included comments from residents on both sides of the argument.
“I beg you to override this veto. A mask mandate is not a matter of pride, but a matter of safety,” one citizen said.
On the other hand, another Ocala resident said, “I’m not wearing a mask and I’ll tell you right now, if you pass the ordinance I’m not wearing a mask.”
Council members were not legally able to make any changes to the ordinance but spoke about tweaking the wording in the ordinance in the future to recommend people wear masks in churches and other places of worship instead of making it mandatory.
Meanwhile also in Marion County, Sheriff Billy Woods said his deputies won’t be allowed to wear face masks except under some conditions, and neither will visitors to the sheriff’s office. There are some exceptions to his mask ban.
Some residents voiced concerns to the city council on Wednesday over the sheriff’s ban on masks for his deputies.
“When I hear about the sheriff not wearing masks or allowing his deputies to wear a mask then it’s a little bit disturbing because I can get stopped for a ticket and this officer can be carrying COVID they caught from a previous person, then boom -- I’m exposed to it,” one resident said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July asked Americans to wear masks to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus. “There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others,” the CDC said.
As of Wednesday morning, the Florida Department of Health-Marion County has reported nearly 6,800 COVID-19 infections since March. That numbers includes 104 deaths and more than 500 people who have been hospitalized with the virus in the same time period.
Across the state, more than 550,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and 8,898 people have died in Florida due to COVID-19 complications.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.