A divided Seminole County commission voted on Tuesday not to drop its mask ordinance but will review the controversial policy in 30 days.
The 3-2 decision was made after about four hours of public comments, the majority from residents who blasted the mandate, saying it is ineffective without penalties and described the order as “draconian.”
Commissioner Amy Lockhart, who voted along with Commissioner Andria Herr against keeping the ordinance in place, has been pushing for its replacement with a resolution that encourages people to wear masks.
Lockhart noted that the mandate is “completely unenforceable” and that the county is in a different place than it was on July 1, when the executive order was enacted that required everyone to wear a mask while inside a business or attending any other public gathering indoors.
To date, more than 170,000 Seminole County residents have received a vaccine.
“We are in this fear-based mode right now and it makes me sad to think that folks who have done the work of getting vaccinated are still so fearful when we have seen real-world evidence that these vaccines are unbelievably amazing,” Lockhart said.
But Commissioner Jay Zembower, who successfully proposed that the county revisit the policy in 30 days or every 2nd county commission meeting, said he’s waiting for 50% of Seminole’s eligible population to be vaccinated or 30 days of declining community spread before considering nixing the order.
There is currently an uptick in case numbers and about 42% of residents have been vaccinated, he said.
“This is not a political statement,” Zembower said, adding that he wasn’t deterred by public comments threatening that commissioners wouldn’t be reelected if the mask order remained. “This is about the safety of the community.”
Before commissioners heard from the public, several medical experts explained the reason for having a mask mandate, including that the coronavirus is spread through airborne transmission.
“We still have a pandemic by all measures,” said Dr. Todd Husty, Seminole’s medical director, who urged people to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing.
Martin E. Comas contributed to this report.