ORLANDO, Fla. – As the Sunshine State moves to the third and final stage of its coronavirus reopening plan, restrictions placed at the state level have been lifted, however, local mask mandates remain in effect across Central Florida.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Friday that the state would move to phase three now that daily COVID-19 case numbers have been declining.
While the governor honed in on allowing full capacity at restaurants during a news conference last week, few other businesses and stipulations were addressed, which created some confusion locally.
At one Baldwin Park restaurant, a sign was posted on the door telling customers: “We are encouraging all our guests to please still wear masks, however, we are no longer requiring this as the mandate has been lifted.”
The governor’s executive order doesn’t specifically address mask mandates because a statewide mask mandate was never issued. Instead, it’s been up to local governments to decide whether they’d like to require masks and in Central Florida, several of them have.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said shortly after the executive order was issued that masks are still required and on Monday, his office confirmed that was still the case.
“I want to stress to business owners that they can and should still require the wearing of masks. We want businesses to fully reopen safely and masks are part of this process," Demings said during a press conference Monday. “Our goal is to work with businesses so they can be successful.”
Demings added that the governor’s order created confusion for local leaders, business owners and residents because the county didn’t know it was coming and didn’t have time to review it beforehand.
“I’m disappointed about this because as we deal with this pandemic everything happens at the local level,” Demings said. “This is where the rubber meets the road and in order for us to be effective at dealing with the virus, we have to have good communications.”
Roderick Zak is a pastor in Apopka at Rejoice in the Lord Ministries and he’s also the co-chair of compliance of the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force.
He said moving to phase three is premature.
“As a man of faith I believe we have to be especially vigilant in preserving life,” Zak said.
The governor’s order allows restaurants and other businesses to reopen at full capacity and eliminates any COVID-19 related fines or penalties. It brings more confusion though for many people like Hatim Sharaf who lives in Orlando.
“It’s like, what do you believe and what do you follow?" Sharif said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer also encouraged residents to keep following the same guidelines to stop the spread that they have been for months now.
“Irrespective of the governor’s order today, I encourage everybody to continue to exercise pandemic precautions, continue to wear your mask, continue to social distance, continue to practice appropriate hygiene,” Dyer said Friday.
Leaders in Seminole County also said Friday that their mask mandate would remain in effect while Osceola County officials said Friday they were still reviewing the order.
Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry on Monday posted a message from the city attorney saying that the mask mandate still stands but it won’t be enforced.
“A business can still require customers to wear face coverings as a condition of service. Persons who refuse to comply with rules established by the business can be arrested for trespass after a warning and assuming their refusal to leave. Businesses can also require employees to wear face coverings and take other COVID-19 precautions, and they may discipline employees who fail to comply with such requirements,” the Facebook post read.
On Tuesday, DeLand Mayor Robert F. Apgar reminded residents that the mask mandate still applies, even though they haven’t been issuing fines.
“We still encourage people to wear masks. Compliance has been good and since the ordinance has been enacted cases have significantly decreased,” Apgar said in a news release.
The City of Cocoa Beach announced that its mask mandate will be rescinded beginning on Monday, Oct. 5.