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Leon County Indoor Mask Requirement Vote Delayed

Valerie Crowder
Leon County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Rick Minor called an emergency meeting to discuss the latest coronavirus surge on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021.

Leon County commissioners are postponing a decision to require masks in all county facilities, which include

"There are questions that need to be answered before we take a vote on that," said District 4 Commissioner Brian Welch. "And I’ll likely support that when we get to that point.”

During a COVID-19 emergency meeting Tuesday, commissioners voted to add a proposal to require face coverings in all county buildings to next week's agenda.

At the meeting, public health officials described the latest COVID-19 surge as the worst the county has seen since the pandemic began, but they also assured commissioners cases and hospitalizations are starting to stabilize.

Though Welch seconded a substitute motion to postpone the decision until next week, he expressed optimism the board would pass some kind of mask requirement at next week's meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m.

“We had no specific policy proposals to discuss tonight.This was a special information-gathering meeting," Welch said. "I think it is wholly appropriate to take the time — just seven days — to hear from my constituents, hear from county employees, hear from county administration.”

County commissioner Kristin Dozier introduced a motion to require masks inside in all county facilities and buildings that house organizations receiving county grant dollars. Board of County Commissioners Chairman Rick Minor seconded the motion, opening it for discussion.

The only county building where visitors must wear masks is the Leon County Courthouse. Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom issued the requirement as cases started to rise during the summer.

“But that is not the case at other county-owned facilities like the library," Welch said.

Welch says questions about where indoor mask requirements would apply remain unanswered — "whether that would apply to buildings that the county owns but doesn’t occupy, like the supervisor of elections building, which we own, but they use."

Last year, the county adopted a mask requirement for all indoor spaces, including private businesses. But the state legislature amended statute to make it harder for local governments to win legal challenges to mask mandates. Some commissioners also expressed reluctance to adopt another universal mask policy without the recommendation from local hospitals.

County Commissioner Kristin Dozier requested last night’s special meeting. But she says she thinks they should've met at the start of the latest surge, driven largely by the highly contagious delta variant.

“We’ve lost more people in August. We had higher call volumes at EMS," Dozier said. "Across the board the metrics were up."

Before commissioners voted, Emergency Management Services Chief Chad Abrams explained the number of response calls had risen by 26% over the last five weeks and 14% since last September. He explained the rate of calls is stabilizing.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.