Key West officials are now requiring everyone over the age of 6 to wear a mask in public, regardless of their ability to distance from others.
The City Commission held a special meeting Thursday to decide on the measure, which does contain a handful of exceptions. In a 7-0 vote, commissioners agreed to ramp up their mask mandate and attach penalties for those who don’t comply.
Those enforcement efforts are complicated by a state order blocking municipalities from collecting fines associated with mask mandates. Key West officials say they still plan to issue fines and will simply collect them when — or if — the Governor’s order expires.
For now, however, officials cannot force individuals who violate the mandate to pay up.
In a Zoom conference Wednesday, five mayors from the southern portion of the state urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to give local officials more room to enforce health guidelines. Key West Mayor Teri Johnston was not on that Zoom meeting, but her city nevertheless moved forward with its efforts to ramp up social distancing efforts as cases continue to surge in Florida.
As for the exceptions in the new Key West order, individuals seated at a restaurant or bar aren’t required to wear a mask, nor are people exercising at a gym. Couples won’t be forced to wear masks while exchanging wedding vows, and individuals in their cars are also exempted from the mandate.
Monroe County, which houses Key West, only requires mask wearing when social distancing efforts are impossible. Key West’s order goes beyond that requirement.
The upcoming months present dual challenges for Key West and other South Florida municipalities. The winter season is prime traveling time. While tourists aren’t expected to visit the region in the same numbers as they would pre-pandemic, any influx of outside individuals could still trigger a rise in cases.
Like the rest of the nation, the region will also be dealing with flu season. While COVID-19 cases haven’t yet reached the peak seen during the summer spike, cases have consistently risen since DeSantis moved the state into Phase Three of his reopening plan. It’s unclear how high those case counts will go, but even a lesser spike can still severely strain hospitals when paired with flu season.
Key West officials plan to increase police presence to increase compliance with the new mandate. City Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover suggested officials send a clear message to tourists in the coming weeks as well.
“It needs to be, ‘wear your damn mask,’” Hoover said. “It needs to be front and center now.”