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St. Johns County Says No To Mask Mandate; Colleague With COVID-19 Is ‘Critical’

A woman wearing a protective mask watches television in her home.
A woman wearing a protective mask watches television in her home.

A St. Johns County Commissioner proposed a mandatory mask mandate during Tuesday’s special emergency meeting, but the motion failed as none of the other commissioners were willing to second the proposal, even as one of their colleagues is in “critical” condition due to complications from COVID-19.

“This is, I think, a reasonable approach based on the huge number of cases, the number of deaths, and the majority of the constituents I'm hearing from clearly want a mandatory face mask law or ordinance,” District 5 Commissioner Henry Dean said, explaining his proposal to adopt a temporary county-wide mandatory mask ordinance that would sunset on August 18. “My belief, as I understand the constitution, the law of this nation and this state, is that when there is an ongoing public emergency where we need to step forward and protect the public safety and health of our constituents, that overrides any concern about individual rights.”

“I cherish my individual rights as an American,” he went on to say. “But there are times when the health and safety of the residents demand that we take action. I personally feel that we're at that point today.”

This wasn’t the first time the issue has come before the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners.

On June 30 the Commission rejected two motions: one that would have required masks to be worn by the public (which was also introduced by Commissioner Dean) and another that would have required county employees and the public to wear masks in county facilities when social distancing isn’t possible.

Related:  St. Johns County Commission Shoots Down Discussion Of Mandatory Mask Ordinance

Then, on July 9, Ashley Waldron Zapata, daughter of St. Johns County Commissioner Paul Waldron, posted on Facebook that her father had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Due to complications from the virus, he went into septic shock and has many organs struggling. He is currently in the most critical of conditions,” she wrote,  according to The St. Augustine Record.

“I would like to call and say at this point, with Mr. Waldron fighting for his life in the hospital, that the commissioners really need to please vote yes on a mask mandate. Not only that, there are people with pre-existing conditions in the community who need to be protected by every single person wearing a mask in public, per CDC recommendations,” one resident said during public comment during Tuesday’s meeting, before Commissioner Dean introduced his second mask mandate proposal.

“I’m calling in to please ask you again to not pass a mandate that St. John’s County residents wear masks,” another resident said. “It is my health. If I choose to wear one, that is my choice. I’m not going to put it upon somebody else to choose for me.”

There is growing evidence that  wearing a mask can help stop the spread of the coronavirus, primarily by protecting other people from the person wearing the mask. And the more people who wear a mask, the more everyone is protected.

After Commissioner Dean’s proposed mask mandate failed, the Commission went on to extend the county’s local state of emergency by another seven days. Commissioners also approved an allocation plan for $46.81 million in CARES Act funding to address COVID-19 related activities and expenses.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

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