VERO BEACH, Fla. — To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, Indian River County commissioners voted Tuesday to extend the current mask ordinance for six months.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus
The measure passed by a vote of 4-1 and extended the mandate through July 13.
Chairman Joe Flescher was the only commissioner to vote against the extension.
"I'm not saying I don't support the mask-wearing. It's merely when we look at a mask mandate, we're talking about mandatory," Flescher said in a dissenting opinion.
Vice Chairman Peter O'Bryan, who supported the mandate, said he sees the mask ordinance similar to smoking indoors and drinking and driving, believing the mask prevents others' actions from causing harm to the public.
"If we really want to talk about the economy and keeping local business going, then all of you should be wearing a mask," O'Bryan said.
O'Bryan made the motion for the six-month extension of the existing mask rules.
The county had been approving two-month extensions since last summer.
The rules require employees of businesses that serve the public to wear masks. Anyone going to a county building or riding public transit also has to wear a face covering.
Commissioner Joe Earman said he supported O'Bryan's assessment and believed the current ordinance is a bit lax and could actually be stricter.
"We have an ordinance in our building, and many of you are sitting in this room without a mask," Earman said during the meeting.
The county has had 8,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and just under 200 deaths, with a recent positivity rate of just under nine percent.
Commissioner Susan Adams also supported extending the mandate for six months, saying the county has a responsibility to ensure employees are coming to a safe work environment.
Commissioner Laura Moss said she agreed to extend the ordinance but thought a six-month extension was too long and advised a four-month extension.
Several residents spoke out Tuesday against the extension.
"We have a county where there's no way to enforce anything. What they're doing here is forcing businesses to wear masks on their employees that they don't even require on the public," said Ruth Kuvlesky, head of the Indian River Freedom Coalition.
The commissioners decided that if the circumstances of the pandemic changed, they could call a meeting to rescind the mandate earlier.
The mask covering ordinance was due to expire after it was extended for 60 days in November.
Those who spoke out against extending the ordinance Tuesday said they return in July to voice their opposition.
Commissioners on Nov. 17 eliminated fines for people who do not comply with the ordinance, which existed in a previous version of the mandate.
Florida is not among the states with a mask mandate.
Following a Sept. 25 executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis, local governments are barred from assessing fines to people who do not comply with local mask ordinances.