Palm Beach County Officials buck the CDC on masks at Mayor’s Ball

The CDC recommends mask-wearing indoors in public at a COVID-19 community level of high. However, many county officials were seen bucking this CDC guidance with over 750 attendees at the event.

While current CDC criteria indicated that Palm Beach County was at a high COVID-19 community level, several county officials were seen maskless at the Mayor’s Ball at the Palm Beach County Convention Center this past Saturday, June 4, 2022. These maskless county officials have previously and repeatedly turned CDC recommendations into mandates. The Mayor’s Ball benefited The Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County, a non-profit organization focused on preventing and ending homelessness.

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Could their bucking CDC guidance signify that we are out of the phase of government-imposed mandates for COVID-19 in Palm Beach County?

The CDC’s community-level guidance was first released on February 25, 2022, just one day after Governor DeSantis and Dr. Ladapo released Florida’s new guidance to “Buck the CDC.” While maskless Palm Beach County officials were bucking the CDC at this event, many have previously been vocal in supporting mask-wearing and mask mandates.

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Two-year term Palm Beach County Mayor and now Commissioner David Kerner was another elected official pictured maskless at the ball.

On April 20, 2021, Board of County Commissioners Meeting, Kerner stated, “We’re certainly not done. I think whether we have a mask mandate or not, people ought to wear their masks, and we ought to think about ways to continue to push that message. I know that I’ll be wearing it for the foreseeable future whether it’s mandated or not, and that’s a personal decision of mine.”

County commissioners voted to turn CDC recommendations into mandates since the first mask mandate for the public went into effect on June 25, 2020. The first mandate initially carried a penalty in fines for non-compliance for both individuals and businesses. It was David Kerner who, in June 2020, set up the “COVID Education and Compliance Team,” comprised of code enforcement who were repurposed to check for mask-wearing compliance at local businesses and tasked with issuing fines for non-compliance. Even as recent as February 2022, the public was not given a personal choice on masking in Palm Beach County Government buildings because a mask mandate was in effect that carried a penalty of police trespass for non-compliance while simultaneously not allowing for any exemptions­­. In their latest mask mandate, Palm Beach County officials did not even recognize medical exemptions recognized by the CDC, which ended February 14, 2022.

Kerner Mayor's Ball Award
Kerner’s Award

 

Kerner, who was pictured maskless at the Mayor’s Ball this past Saturday, was an honoree at the event. He received an award plaque with the picture of a mask and the words: “In Recognition Of Your Tremendous Leadership In Public Health On Behalf Of The Citizens Of Palm Beach County.”

Kerner was a strict enforcer of mask mandates, going so far as eyeing everyone in the crowd during county commission meetings and stopping the meetings to reprimand anyone whose mask happened to drop below their nose. Meanwhile, officials on the dais were permitted to remove their masks while speaking.

Turning a mask mandate into an “administrative facility use policy” slipped through Governor DeSantis’ ban on executive orders that restrict individuals related to COVID-19 and the Legislature’s new law to limit such emergency orders.

Notably, Palm Beach Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker was also pictured maskless among the 750 attendees at the Mayor’s Ball.

Since May 4, 2021, she found loopholes in Governor DeSantis’ executive orders to nullify local COVID-19 executive orders when she issued her first “policy” directed at the public for the mandatory use of facial coverings for COVID-19. Ms. Baker enacted her latest mask mandate on the public as recently as December 2021 without getting direction from the policy-setting governing board of the county (County Commissioners). Instead, she did so “at her own discretion,” according to the county’s official record request-response.

With almost an entire two-year history of signing executive orders and policies to turn CDC recommendations into mandates, County Administrator Baker was pictured maskless at the Mayor’s Ball this past Saturday despite CDC recommendations to wear a mask in public places.

I reached out to a county spokesperson to inquire why top Palm Beach County officials (including county commissioners and the county administrator) were not wearing masks at the Mayor’s Ball despite Palm Beach County being at a high COVID-19 community level with corresponding CDC recommendations to wear masks in public.

The county spokesperson responded, “Masks are not required to be worn indoors as there is no mandate in Palm Beach County. The CDC guidelines are posted in the convention center for patrons to be informed.”

At a time when the CDC recommends mask-wearing in public, Palm Beach County has decided not to turn CDC recommendations into mandates despite having a nearly two-year track record of doing so.

This is not the first time Palm Beach County officials have been seen at a gala maskless, picking and choosing for themselves which CDC guidelines they want to follow. In September 2021, CBS12 reported parents angered at seeing Palm Beach County and school officials party at the Breakers maskless while simultaneously enforcing mask mandates on children in public schools and the general public while in public libraries or other county government buildings.
County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay was also seen unmasked at a gala benefiting a local school back on March 26, 2021, despite the county having a mask mandate in place at the time, according to Boca News Now.

Breakers hotel maskless

Among other officials pictured maskless at the same event included the Director of the Florida Department of Health for Palm Beach County, Dr. Alina Alonso. Alonso has been a strong proponent of the use of masks in her advisement to both the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners and The School District of Palm Beach County.

At the County Commission meeting where the first mandate was imposed on June 23, 2020, Dr. Alonso clarified her previous comments that appeared to be against mandates stating:

“Let me clear that, I am a big advocate of the facial coverings for maintaining and containing the spread of COVID.” “Information now is that: the facial coverings in public help stop the spread of the virus.” Dr. Alonso continued, “That is definitely my position, so I highly recommend that we go forward with the wearing of the masks as mandatory.”I reached out to Dr. Alonso to inquire why she did not follow CDC guidelines to wear a mask this past Saturday at the Mayor’s Ball. A spokesperson for Dr. Alonso replied, instructing me, “Please refer any questions regarding the Governor’s Ball to the Homeless Coalition.” While I am not aware of a “Governor’s Ball,” my question was explicitly about Dr. Alonso being maskless at the Mayor’s Ball, not about the requirements of The Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County to attend the event. Despite another attempt to understand why Dr. Alonso did not follow CDC guidelines for mask-wearing at the event, I was unsuccessful in obtaining an answer.

Michelle Oyola McGovern was a Co-Chair for the Mayor’s Ball and a current Democrat party candidate for Palm Beach County District 6 Commissioner. She is also the wife of mask proponent John McGovern, the Village of Wellington’s Vice Mayor. When asked why she did not follow CDC guidelines to wear masks at the event, Michelle did not provide a comment but instead re-directed my inquiry to an Executive Director at the Homeless Coalition, who did not respond.

The Palm Beach Daily News reported just a day before the Mayor’s Ball that the Town of Palm Beach began requiring masks to be worn for public meetings at Town Hall in response to CDC guidelines.

Since the start of the pandemic, the CDC has issued guidelines and recommendations for mask-wearing that government officials have turned into mandates, which they frequently ignored themselves.

Our elected officials are not immune to the mandates and laws they impose on the rest of us, and it’s about time they learned that.


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