People seen not wearing a face covering in public in Osceola County could be fined after an initial warning, the county’s Board of County Commissioners voted Monday.
The board voted 4-1 to pass the ordinance, which adds to an April order requiring face coverings in public by imposing a penalty system with increasing fines for each instance someone is found not wearing a mask in a public space.
Violators receive no citation on the first warning and are given a chance to explain if they fall under exemptions to the mandate, like having a medical condition which would make breathing with a mask difficult. The first offense afterward carries a $25 fine, as does the second, but the third and subsequent offenses levy a $50 fine.
District 5 Commissioner Fred Hawkins, Jr. voted in opposition, saying the mandate would have the unintended consequence of “pitting citizen against citizen.” Enforcing the mandate would fall to law enforcement during a time of unrest when resources are already scarce, he said.
“If I owned a liquor store or a jewelry store and somebody had glasses and a mask on, I would be kind of worried if they’re entering my store right now,” he said.
He added many commonly-used masks do not effectively prevent transmission of the coronavirus, though health experts say they do help.
“I will wear a mask when I have to go into a store that requires it out of respect, but I do not think we as a government should force people to wear a mask,” Hawkins said.
Several residents called into the meeting to share their comments on the ordinance, with many voicing concerns that it overextended government reach.
Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez responded to these concerns by saying the ordinance does not change or limit the preexisting facial covering order adopted by the county’s Executive Policy Group except for adding a penalty provision enforceable by code enforcement and local law enforcement agencies.
Alvarez also addressed the recent claims of “COVID-19 parties” in Kissimmee — gatherings allegedly held with the intent to spread the coronavirus — saying large gatherings “have always happened in Osceola County” but are especially risky given the ongoing pandemic.
The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office told the Orlando Sentinel last week they were unable to verify claims these parties were held with the intent to expose attendees to the virus.
“I know it’s uncomfortable to wear a face cover, but it’s more uncomfortable to be intubated in a hospital,” Alvarez said. “We have to do more.”
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