Palm Beach County and Dr. Alonso respond to new COVID-19 guidance

This past week brought back to back days of changing guidance for COVID-19 response measures, one set from the State of Florida and the other from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The State of Florida released new COVID-19 guidance on Thursday, February 24 and the CDC released their new COVID-19 guidance late afternoon on Friday, February 25.

While neither set of guidance matches entirely, I reached out to Palm Beach County and the Director of the Florida Department of Health for Palm Beach County, Dr. Alina Alonso, to see if they intended to follow the newly released COVID-19 guidance from the State of Florida.

My questions to the Board of County Commissioners, the County Administrator, Verdenia Baker, and the Public Affairs Director, Lisa De La Rionda, are below word for word:

1.) Does the county intend to follow this guidance?

2.) Does the county plan to follow this guidance specifically in terms of the advisement against facial coverings in community settings and the advisement against requiring facial coverings for employees in a general community setting?

The county’s public affairs director responded, “Palm Beach County is in compliance with the law.”

It is unclear which law the county is referring to since I asked explicitly about guidance (not law) and provided them a link to the newly released “Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Guidance Recommendations”:

I asked the county to clarify precisely which law they are referring to, but I have not received a response.

Existing laws in Florida regarding COVID-19 measures include the banning of facial coverings for public school children and the prohibition of quarantining public school employees and students exposed to COVID-19 but are asymptomatic and do not have a positive test. Additionally, a law exists to prohibit COVID-19 vaccination mandates unless exemptions are provided for employees in Florida. Each of these laws expires on June 1, 2023.

Governor DeSantis and State Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo unveiled the new COVID-19 guidance for Florida in a press release on February 24. The guidance covers several different aspects of COVID-19 measures with an overview:

Specific to facial coverings, the “Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Guidance Recommendations” includes:

“Unlike CDC guidance, Florida’s new masking guidance advises against wearing facial coverings in a community setting. There is not strong evidence that masks reduce the transmission of respiratory illness. Businesses are advised to no longer require facial coverings for employees, as there is no proven significant clinical benefit for facial coverings among the general population.”

Also included in the Florida Department of Health’s new guidance are links to scientific sources used to support this decision-making.

After releasing these new state guidelines, I also directed questions to Dr. Alonso.

Dr. Alina Alonso
Screen Capture from Video of PBC Commission Meeting

As a proper procedure, she forwarded my inquiry for a response to the Director of Communications and Public Information for the Florida Department of Health- Palm Beach County, Alex Shaw. Below are my questions and the corresponding answers from Alex Shaw copied word for word:

1.) Do you intend to follow this guidance when advising the county Board of County Commissioners, County Admin and School Board, and other advisory roles?

Alex Shaw’s response, “The Department of Health is implementing this guidance within our agency, and we recommend this guidance to Floridians that test positive or are exposed to COVID-19.”

2.) Do you also plan to advise the county, school board, county admin, and others specifically in terms of the advisement against facial coverings in community settings and the advisement against requiring facial coverings for employees in a general community setting?

Alex Shaw’s response, “This guidance is what the Department of Health advises across the State of Florida. Schools are required to follow the COVID-19 rules published by the Department of Health.”

These responses indicate that there will be a coordinated effort for all county health departments under the Florida Department of Health to follow the new “Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Guidance Recommendations” in their advisory roles to counties and school boards the general public.

New CDC guidance released on February 25 includes prevention steps based on COVID-19 at the community level. According to the CDC, Community levels are based upon three different metrics:

1. “New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population in the past seven days”

2. “The percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients”

3. “Total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days”

The CDC specified three different community levels of COVID-19: low, medium, and high. For the general public, mask-wearing indoors is only recommended by the CDC at a COVID-19 community level of high. Still, individuals can choose to wear a mask at any level “…based on personal preference, informed by the personal level of risk” according to the new guidance.

Additionally, people riding on public and private school vehicles are no longer advised to wear masks by the CDC. However, schools or educational institutions may still require this. The CDC order from January 29, 2021, requiring that all people wear face masks while using public transportation and at transportation hubs, remains in effect.

More information on the new CDC guidance can be found at the CDC website.

With new CDC guidance on COVID-19 following a day after Florida’s new guidance to “Buck the CDC,” it is unclear which guidance Palm Beach County will follow since their reply only addressed following the law and no specific guidance.

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