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Masks Now Mandatory Inside Keys Businesses

Earlier this month, right after the Keys reopened to visitors, Monroe County commissioners voted three to two against making masks mandatory inside businesses. They did recommend the wearing of masks.

But after a couple weeks of watching how people are behaving, they decided to revisit the issue.

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The commission voted unanimously Wednesday to require masks when inside a business — anywhere with a roof overhead.

The ordinance is effective immediately and applies countywide, though cities can opt out. Key West already requires masks inside businesses.

There are some exceptions, including while eating and drinking and while working out at a gym, as long as you're at least six feet from another person.

Commissioners heard from several people who urged the requirement, including Bob Eadie, administrator of the state Department of Health in the Keys.

"If anyone has been down Duval Street in the last few days, you will notice that not only do I not see people wearing masks, I don't even see people carrying masks," Eadie said.

The Keys have had a low number of coronavirus infections, but also have very limited health care capacity. The county has three small hospitals and one of them, Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon, is a temporary facility while a new building is under construction to replace the structure destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Keys residents have flooded social media with photographs and complaints about people without masks crowding on the island. Spencer Krenke is with a group called the Masks in Public Project and addressed commissioners Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, after the last three weeks, just watching what's going on, I don't believe visitors have respect for how fragile and limited our health care community really is," he said.

Commissioners decided against criminal penalties — unlike the kinds of penalties issued for violating emergency directives. Instead, those who don't comply could face a civil citation or a code enforcement violation.

The ordinance is scheduled to sunset June 1, 2021 but commissioners said they plan to revisit it every few months.

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Nancy Klingener / WLRN

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.