POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County officials will be monitoring how mask mandates affect testing results in Tampa and St. Petersburg but have no plans to require face coverings themselves.
“While numbers are ticking up… I do not see Polk County following Tampa’s lead. Folks are smart enough to make their own decisions,” George Lindsey, a Polk County commissioner, told 8 On Your Side.
Florida is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Tampa and St. Petersburg have enacted mask requirements. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are considering county-wide mandates.
“The numbers are increasing dramatically in the state of Florida, so I think it’s important to just keep other people and myself healthy,” said Eddie Kleissler, who was wearing a mask while walking in downtown Lakeland Friday.
Positive coronavirus cases in Polk County hit 1,856 on Friday. Seventy-seven people have died.
“The current trend is up but this is not a static situation and we expect numbers to go up and down over time,” said County Chair Bill Braswell. “I think it is also important to note Tampa’s population is nine times more dense and St. Pete 12 times more dense than Polk County.”
Since June 1, Polk County’s infection rate sits at 4.25 percent, which Braswell calls “reasonable.”
“Today, we’re seeing this disease spread even more and wearing the mask will help slow that down,” said Dr. Daniel Haight, the vice president of Community Health and Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Lakeland Regional Health.
Dr. Haight recommends wearing a mask when social distancing is not possible.
“Wearing a mask really helps prevent a person who may be unknowingly sick from spreading it to someone they care about and to the community in general. Wearing the mask really helps keep the spread down,” he said.
Lakeland Regional Health is championing a campaign by the city of Lakeland to “Mask Up to Keep COVID Down.”
The city is not considering a citywide mask requirement but urges people not to be “that guy” who isn’t wearing a mask.
“You’ve got those that are pro-mask, and those that ‘I’m not gonna wear a mask, it hinders my freedoms and things of that nature.’ However, it’s been shown by the CDC that you could be asymptomatic and your breath particles could infect others,” said Kevin Cook, the director of communications at the City of Lakeland.
People 8 On Your Side spoke with in Lakeland, who were both wearing masks, had differing views on whether they should be required.
“I wouldn’t mind if it was required. I think maybe that would be a good thing,” said Margie Nelson, who lives in Lakeland. “I wear a mask when I’m out, anywhere I go, especially into a building.”
“I think it should be a personal choice. Everyone should respect everyone else’s space but I don’t feel like there should be a mandate to wear masks,” said Eric Douglass, who lives in Auburndale.
The owner of the downtown Lakeland restaurant, Nineteen61, changed course this week on masks.
Because of the rise in infections, Marcos Fernandez’s employees are all required to wear them.
“We are human. We do make decisions that we feel are in the best interests of our community and our staff. Now we’re changing our stance because that’s how we feel. We feel like we need to make the right decision,” he said.
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