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County releases rules for wearing masks

By Hannah Morse

The Palm Beach Post

Within the limits of Palm Beach County, a mask is now a mandate.

To curb the growing number of coronavirus cases, county officials made wearing a facial covering obligatory inside buildings where the public is welcome, and outdoors when physical distancing is impossible, starting Thursday.

Masks can come off while eating, drinking or exercising. As soon as that’s done, back on the mask goes.

Restaurant? Mask.

Grocery store? Mask.

Your Uber or Lyft? Mask.

Any business or establishment that is currently allowed to operate? Mask.

These businesses also must place signs outside their entrances that say “facial coverings required” in English, Spanish and Haitian-Creole. Employees also must wear masks when interacting with the public.

Masks already had been obligatory in countyowned buildings and on Palm Tran buses. The county’s order, unanimously approved Tuesday and finalized Wednesday, applies to all of Palm Beach County’s 39 municipalities, too.

While commissioners debated automatically revoking the rule after 30 days or four months, they ultimately decided to leave the final say to the county administrator. However, the published rule states the order automatically expires after 30 days on July 24, unless extended by another order from the county administrator or by commission vote.

Mayor Dave Kerner said Thursday in a text message that the administrator’s ability to extend or rescind the mandate is critical.

'From my perspective, there should always be an automatic sunset if emergency powers are utilized, meaning affirmative executive action is required to continue the order,' Kerner wrote.

The mandate is relaxed for people who can maintain a safe distance from others in parks and other outdoor arenas.

Anyone who does not comply won’t be met with jail time but may face a $250 fine for the first offense and a $500 fine for a second offense and beyond.

Kerner said people won’t automatically be served fines if spotted violating the order.

“Our goal is to educate, educate, educate,” he said.

The emergency order lists a number of exemptions, including for:

• Children ages 2 and under;

• Children at a child care or day care facility;

• People who are prohibited from wearing facial coverings by federal or state safety regulations;

• Public safety personnel who have personal protective equipment;

• People exercising or maintaining physical distancing, according to CDC guidelines;

• People receiving goods or services in a short period of time, such as eating, drinking, facial grooming, etc.;

• People with medical conditions where mask-wearing is unsafe, including asthma, COPD or other conditions;

• People whose religious beliefs conflict with wearing masks;

• People who need to help someone who is hearing impaired or must read lips to communicate.

The county also established a mechanism for residents to report a violation or seek information about the mask mandate by calling 561-24COVID or emailing covidcompli-ance@pbcgov.org.

The written order came more than 24 hours after an at times contentious meeting Tuesday when county commissioners unanimously supported a mask mandate despite heated opposition from residents who said the mandate violates their rights and could harm their health. Initially, commissioners expected the mandate to go into effect Wednesday.

hmorse@pbpost.com @mannahhorse

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