Resident questions legality and inclusiveness of County’s mask policy

The Palm Beach County “Mask Requirement” policy contradicts CDC guidance for those with certain medical conditions (see screenshot attached). It threatens trespass from law enforcement for anyone who does not comply.

Additionally, Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker enacted the latest “Mask Requirement” policy on December 30, 2021, which went into effect on January 3, 2022, at her discretion,” without the direction of “the policy-setting governing body of the county,” the Board of County Commissioners. This violates Florida law, specifically FL Statute 125.74. (See County FOIA response attached). The Commission and county staff have failed to remedy the above problems with the policy.

The same day the new “Mask Requirement” policy went into effect, I emailed Palm Beach County officials to inquire whether the policy included medically recognized exemptions such as those mentioned by the CDC. I had let county officials know that their policy contradicts C DC guidance for those with certain medical conditions, and at the same time, the policy threatens trespass from law enforcement for non-compliance with the policy. At the same time making them aware that my child falls under the category where he is advised not to wear a mask. Three weeks went by, and I received no reply.

In a follow-up email, I again asked for a response. I received an answer that included nothing but copying and pasting the same policy I had already linked in my previous emails. None of my questions were acknowledged or answered.

Recently, at my son’s request, we visited a county library. I recorded our experience just in case an issue arose since the county was silent in responding to my inquiries for medical exemptions and the written policy contained a threat of police trespass. I’m glad I did because we were denied entry into the public library because the County policy doesn’t allow exemptions.

The day after we were denied entry into the county library, county officials met in the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting chambers and were seen mask-less, removing their masks as they pleased. (See pictures attached)

At the same meeting, Palm Beach County’s Mayor told the unelected employee, County Administrator Verdenia Baker, that he hoped she would revisit the mask policy to allow each person to make their own choices. It might astonish you to know that his request was DENIED by Ms. Baker in the same breath she was mask-less herself.

This interaction is also an example of the opposite way our elected governing body is supposed to operate. We, the people as electors, elect our County Commissioners, who then oversee and give direction to the unelected County Administrator, not the other way around.

As if this all weren’t insensitive enough, the County’s Director of Public Affairs immediately answered CBS 12 news’ inquiry about the Mask Requirement Policy the very same day they asked for clarification despite this same county spokesperson ignoring my email inquiries for weeks.

The news report covers the story of how we were denied entry into the Palm Beach County public library West Boca branch. CBS 12 news editors decided not to publicize the FL statute violation and the fact that my questions went unanswered for a month.

Palm Beach County officials have been aware of residents’ needs for exemptions since 2020. The first-ever mask mandate was an executive order voted on by the Board of County Commissioners with robust public input and enacted by the county in June 2020.

The original mask mandate included eight exemptions: children under the age of 2, persons prohibited by Federal or State safety regulations, public safety staff, individuals who are actively exercising and maintaining social distance, and persons receiving goods or services for a short time, persons who have a medical condition that makes wearing a mask unsafe, persons who have a religious belief that conflicts with mask-wearing and facial coverings could be removed while assisting those who are hearing impaired or rely on reading lips.

Now in 2022, suddenly, exemptions are gone. Does this mean that people’s medical needs have simply vanished? I think not.

Palm Beach County government officials have been caught picking and choosing for themselves when they want to follow their policies and CDC guidelines. Why can’t we all be afforded that same ability to make autonomous health decisions for ourselves and our children?

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Jean-Marie Nacer
Palm Beach County Resident

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