Leon County residents will have to wear masks or face coverings when they’re inside public spaces like restaurants and stores. That’s under a new ordinance passed by the county commission Tuesday.
County Commission Chairman Bryan Desloge says officials have to put together answers to frequently asked questions about the ordinance before the new rule goes into place at 12:01 Thursday morning. But he says really, it’s pretty simple.
“If it’s under a roof, you’re wearing a mask,” Desloge said.
Desloge says there are some exceptions in places where people can effectively socially distance. For example, someone at work in a office with a door that closes wouldn’t need to keep their mask on. According to a release from the county, other exceptions include:
- Persons under the age of six years;
- Persons who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition or individuals with a documented or demonstrable medical problem. It is the intent of this provision that those individuals who cannot tolerate a facial covering for a medical, sensory, or any other condition which makes it difficult for them to utilize a facial covering and function in public are not required to wear one;
- Persons in their private rooms of a lodging establishment, such as a hotel, motel, or vacation rental—however, face coverings must be worn in all indoor commons areas of said establishment;
- Persons exercising while observing at least six feet of distancing from another person;
- Restaurant and bar patrons eating or drinking;
- Business owners, managers, and employees who are in an area of a business establishment that is not open to customers, patrons, or the public, provided that six feet of distance exists between persons.
In the release Desloge says "while requiring face masks may inconvenience some, it will protect many more."
The move comes after commissioners say they saw a call from community members for consistency and direction. Desloge says he’s heard those calls from medical professionals, university heads, and restaurant representatives.
“I also talked to the head of the retail federation today and they also said, ‘we are asking for something. We don’t know to be the regulatory body, but we support mandating face coverings,’” Desloge said.
Commissioners first passed the rule through an emergency order, which put criminal penalties in place for violators. That’s something many commissioners, including Kristen Dozier found concerning.
“There’s a lot of questions coming in about enforcement, not just the burden on law enforcement, but also the fact that this may disproportionately affect some communities more than others. I also hope that we could start with a sliding scale—do education first as opposed to fines," Dozier said.
To address those concerns, commissioners also passed an emergency ordinance that let commissioners put a civil penalty in place instead. It imposes a series of fines, starting with $50 for the first offense. Commissioners are urging officers to use discretion and focus on education through warnings first.
Commissioner Rick Minor also noted not wearing a mask can’t be used as cause for a search or arrest.
“Included in that is the definition of this as a non-criminal violation and it does not authorize the search or arrest of any individual and I think that is important. Not wearing a mask does not rise to meaning an arrest,” Minor said.
County officials say they have masks to distribute to people who need them. County Administrator Vince Long says the County has 30,000 cloth masks now to give away. The county health department is scheduled to get another 230,000 cloth masks Friday.The free face coverings can be picked up at any Leon County library location. Visitors can pick up one mask for themselves and one for any immediate family members.
Leon County Republican Party Chair Evan Power announced in a tweet Tuesday evening he plans to sue the city over the ordinance.