WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County's face mask mandate, which had been in place for more than a year to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, is over, officials announced Tuesday.
It comes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended all local emergency orders related to the pandemic.
Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker told commissioners Tuesday the county will follow the governor's lead, making Palm Beach County's facial covering ordinance obsolete.
"We are going to follow the governor's order and CDC guidelines," Baker said. "The governor's order has usurped our countywide mandate."
WATCH COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR'S COMMENTS:
Palm Beach County's face mask ordinance, which first went into effect on April 13, 2020, and had been modified multiple times, required people to wear facial coverings inside businesses, government buildings and Palm Tran transit services.
Baker said, however, that Palm Beach County will still require employees and patrons to continue wearing masks to do business inside county buildings.
"We are short-staffed to start with," Baker said. "Hurricane season is soon upon us, and I need to protect our most valued asset, and that is our employees and the public."
The county administrator added that the Palm Beach County property appraiser's and tax collector's offices will only conduct business with people wearing masks.
Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth said individual businesses can still make their own rules and require customers and employees to wear masks.
Weinroth added that, despite the mask mandate ending, people should continue to practice safety when it comes to the coronavirus.
"People should feel that if they need a mask, if they have a cold, or if they're going to be in a situation where they're going to be with people they don't know in tight quarters, they should continue to wear a mask," Weinroth said. "Just because it's not mandatory doesn't mean that you have to throw your mask away."
WATCH VICE MAYOR'S COMMENTS:
"Businesses can do what they want," Commissioner Maria Marino said. "We are not telling businesses what to do. They are making the best decision for their employees and their staff."
Commissioners last week debated the county's face mask mandate at length, questioning whether it was even effective anymore.
Palm Beach County health director Dr. Alina Alonso, who has repeatedly expressed her desire to keep the mask ordinance in place, urged the public to continue wearing facial coverings, saying Florida is still at a "very high virus spread."
"Please keep that in mind as you walk around, either outside or you're indoors, inside restaurants or crowded events," Alonso said Tuesday. "Those who choose to go without the mask, please keep that in mind."
The governor's executive order to suspend local COVID-19 mandates will not, however, impact the face mask policy currently in place for the School District of Palm Beach County.
Under the district's COVID-19 student policy, all students must "wear face coverings at all times," except when eating and drinking while seated.
A spokeswoman for the school district on Tuesday said the governor's new order "does not impact policies in place at the school level, including those requiring the mandatory wearing of facial coverings for students and staff."
WPTV's Matt Sczesny highlighted the latest developments with the Palm Beach County mask debate during a live broadcast on the WPTV Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.
At this point, masks will still be required in the following places in Palm Beach County:
- County buildings (Property Appraiser's Office, Tax Collector's Office)
- Businesses can set their own rules and require masks
- Post offices, federal buildings
- Face mask policy remains in effect for Palm Beach County schools
In addition, Publix said it will continue requiring facial coverings for customers and employees in all of its stores throughout Florida.
"Throughout this pandemic, we've implemented many changes in our stores to safeguard the health and well-being of the communities we serve. At this time, no changes are being made to our mask policy," Maria Brous, the director of communications for Publix, said in a written statement to WPTV.