Florida businesses worry about state's 'patchwork' of face mask rules

“There is definitely, for some people, a political component to it."

click to enlarge Florida businesses worry about state's 'patchwork' of face mask rules
Photo by Michael M. Sinclair

Business groups say a "patchwork" of local face-mask ordinances across Florida is creating confusion for store owners and customers.

Several cities and counties from the Panhandle to South Florida have approved requirements for face coverings to be worn in public settings. But other local governments have stayed out of the issue, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide mandate.

The issue also has sparked fierce debates, with some people taking the advice of public health officials who say face coverings can reduce the spread of COVID-19, while others see mask requirements as a government intrusion into personal liberties.

Florida Retail Federation CEO Scott Shalley said some ordinances could lead to businesses being fined if customers refuse to wear masks. He said it is unfair to make store employees police the mask mandates, which vary among communities. “The mask issue, in and of itself, has shown itself to be very volatile,” Shalley said. “There is definitely, for some people, a political component to it. We really don’t think our sales associates, who are on the front lines providing services to Floridians, should be the ones to be in the middle of that battleground.”

The National Federation of Independent Business also expressed concerns about businesses being held liable if customers don’t comply with mask requirements.

“This patchwork of local regulations has created confusion and underscored the challenges small businesses face as they struggle to recover from the shutdown,” Bill Herrle, NFIB’s state executive director in Florida, said in a prepared statement. “Under many of these ordinances, owners could be held criminally liable if customers don't follow the rules and wear a mask. We believe draconian rules that arbitrarily punish small business owners are unfair, especially when the owners are doing everything they can to protect their customers and employees and prevent the virus from spreading.”

On Friday, Florida reported nearly 9,000 new cases of COVID-19, a single-day record. The respiratory disease is linked to more than 3,300 deaths in the state.

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