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Martin County commissioner's motion to reinstate mask mandate rejected

Commissioner Sarah Heard's motion fails 3-2
Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard talks about mask mandate proposal being rejected
Posted at 8:42 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 20:42:42-05

STUART, Fla. — There were renewed calls Tuesday to mask up in Martin County, nearly two months after the county's controversial mask mandate was repealed.

"Our infection rates and our numbers are soaring," Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard said.

Heard restarted the conversation during a commission meeting and made a motion to begin the process of reinstating a county-wide mask mandate as coronavirus cases continue to climb.

"We need to do everything that we can to protect our residents, and this is the easiest, most effective way to protect our residents," Heard said.

Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard talks about mask mandate proposal being rejected
"We need to do everything that we can to protect our residents, and this is the easiest, most effective way to protect our residents," Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard says.

But during Tuesday's meeting, Heard told WPTV that she was met with bitter refusal.

"It looked to me like three commissioners and the county attorney were looking at every way to say 'no' rather than creating a path to say 'yes,'" Heard said.

According to the Florida Department of Health in Martin County, cases have been rising since the second week of November. The health department said it also saw a jump on Nov. 24, right before Thanksgiving, which is attributed to more people wanting to get tested before the holiday.

"I carry spares in my car in case I leave the house without one," Paula Smith said, referring to her collection of masks.

Paula Smith wearing mask while sitting in her car outside Martin County library
"I carry spares in my car in case I leave the house without one," Paula Smith said of her collection of masks.

Smith told WPTV she would like to see a statewide mask mandate, as she was sitting in the parking lot outside the Peter and Julie Cummings Library in Palm City, unaware the branch is temporarily closed after an exposure to the virus.

"I don't understand why here in Florida the governor actually said that they're not allowed to enforce mask mandates that local areas had enacted," Smith said.

In October, Martin County repealed the mask mandate, but county officials still strongly recommend wearing face coverings in public.

"What we're talking about is passing a mandatory mask mandate, that mandates everybody to wear a mask, but if you don't wear a mask, that's OK too. Is that what we're talking about?" Commissioner Harold Jenkins asked Heard. "It's ridiculous."

With no enforcement and no fines allowed, Heard's motion quickly failed 3-2.

"People are more inclined to obey if there's a rule," Heard said. "Strongly recommending is not the same as mandating."

Because it's the holiday season, the health department also said it's essential to continue wearing a mask, practice social distancing and keeping gatherings small to slow the spread of the virus.