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The South Florida Roundup

Local Governments Issue Mask Orders To Protect Essential Workers From COVID-19

Several South Florida local governments have issued orders that urge or require people to wear masks inside essential businesses. Here, workers in Spain place a medical mask on a figure that was to be part of a Valencia festival that was canceled.

Local governments are taking more precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Several cities – from Miramar to Miami Beach – have issued their own mask orders this week. Miami-Dade and Monroe counties instituted one for their jurisdictions, too.

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The orders urge or require people to cover their nose and mouth inside essential businesses – grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores, among others, that have remained open as the pandemic continues.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson talked about enforcing these orders with Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and Key West Mayor Teri Johnston.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: What kind of enforcement is is in place?

MAYOR DAN GELBER: I spent about a decade in the Florida legislature. I always noticed whenever we added a seatbelt law or something, compliance, even if it wasn't enforced dramatically, immediately happened. Once it was the law, people wore their seatbelts more, frankly. We have seen very substantial compliance immediately. First of all, it's absolutely unfair that workers are not wearing masks, to them and to others. And the masks really don't protect you, but they protect other people from you. And it's a much better environment if there is 100 percent compliance, so that everybody is safer. Basically, we're turning them away. That's what the grocery and the pharmacies stores are doing.

It's the stores' responsibility to tell somebody without a face or nose covering to say you can't come in?

GELBER: Oh, yeah. Our code compliance folks are going out there and are giving nice warnings right now, sending people home. And the stores are doing that. But if we see a violation, we're gonna give a warning.

Is the warning the wag of a finger? Or is there any muscle behind those warnings or any muscle behind a second violation?

GELBER: If we get to that point, we may have to arrest people.

What about the the accountability and the enforcement in Key West of the mask order?

MAYOR TERI JOHNSTON: It's been excellent. First of all, [there are] managers who meet the customers at the door at our Publix and our Winn-Dixie, and they're asked to turn around and put on a face covering and not enter the store. And most of our employees right now in both of those grocery stores and in Home Depot are abiding by the mask regulations.

What we're also trying to do is if you have a facility that has a dedicated entrance and a secondary access that you can use, we're trying to move people along those ways, so you're not passing people as you're walking into a store. I noticed a number of grocery stores also have made their aisles one-way. So you're not passing people in close proximity where you're putting people at risk.

And what about that 6-foot social distancing request, and in some cases, requirement in some of these facilities. Are you seeing tape on the floor 6 feet apart?

JOHNSTON: Yes, we are. And here's one of the great things: If you're a Facebook fan or not, what it's actually done in Key West is it's deputised another 25,000 code compliance officers.

The social media shaming of it, so to speak. Mayor Gelber, your community knows something or another about social media. Usually we're talking about spring break, which would be about this time of year. Are you seeing that required spacing being respected in retail outlets?

GELBER It's improving dramatically. And I think the orders have done that. And what our police do say – so you know – is, we say: "You need to comply with this." And then, if they don't, then they'll take greater action.

The transcript of this interview has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

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Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.