A Palm Beach County official says the county can still force businesses to implement mask mandates despite a state order that kneecapped mask enforcement mechanisms for individuals.
That state order from Gov. Ron DeSantis did not fully invalidate mask mandates. It did, however, preempt local governments from collecting fines from individuals who violate the mandates.
The order’s language did not speak to fines levied on businesses.
“This order … suspends the collection of fines and penalties associated with COVID-19 enforced upon individuals,” the EO reads.
According to an email from Jon Van Arnam, Palm Beach’s Deputy County Administrator, county officials still believe they can force businesses to comply with county rules requiring masks.
In the email to a county official requesting guidance on the county’s power per the Governor’s new EO, Van Arnam said the county had prioritized business compliance throughout the pandemic.
“We have not issued any fines to individuals to date,” Van Arnam wrote. “We have instead focused on obligations of businesses under the order. So in summary, the order is still enforceable, however, no individual can be fined for violating the order.”
He added, “We can still enforce on businesses.”
Of course, businesses can still choose to require masks inside their premises on their own. Palm Beach County’s interpretation would allow local governments to retain some level of control over that enforcement as the region moves into Phase Three of the state’s reopening plan.
Some businesses have wondered though whether customers would comply given the fact individuals fines are now null. DeSantis ordered South Florida’s tri-county area — Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties — into Phase Three just weeks after the region had moved into Phase Two.
The Governor approved Palm Beach County to move into Phase Two in the first week of September. The next week, DeSantis announced Broward and Miami-Dade counties would advance to Phase Two as well. The rest of the state had been in Phase Two since June.
South Florida had been lagging behind the rest of the state in terms of reopening out of caution due to the virus’s rapid spread in the region. But with the Phase Three announcement, the Governor’s office shirked that pattern for the first time, ordering the region to move forward alongside the rest of the state.
DeSantis’ new order blocks local governments from shutting down sectors of the economy entirely, though local governments still have some flexibility in enforcing rules on capacity and other areas.