A notification sign is posted on the exit door at the Knights Pub on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. The bar, where dozens of workers and patrons have come down with the new coronavirus, has had its alcohol license suspended.

By John Haughey | The Center Square

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will not issue a statewide executive order requiring face masks be worn in public, but he also won’t preempt local governments from doing so.

As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 40 Florida municipalities required everyone to wear a face mask in public, with many cities and counties vowing to more aggressively enforce social distancing protocols and COVID-19 reopening guidelines via fines and criminal prosecution.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued an advisory Saturday, recommending “all individuals in Florida should wear face coverings in any setting where social distancing is not possible” and discouraging social gatherings of more than 50 people.

The Florida Medical Association (FMA) also encouraged local officials last week to require face masks be worn in public.

The advisories are spurred by rising COVID-19 case counts in Florida. As of Tuesday, more than 103,500 cases have been diagnosed in Florida since March, with the Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 dashboard reporting 3,286 new cases and 64 deaths for Monday, raising the state’s mortality count to 3,238.

Tampa, Orange County, Orlando, the Florida Keys and St. Petersburg were among Florida municipalities last week that required face masks in public.

On Monday, 34 mayors from Miami-Dade County’s 35 cities announced plans to require face masks in public, with violators risking misdemeanor charges.

Mayors of Miami, Key Biscayne, North Miami Beach, Highland Beach, Aventura, Miami Shore and Miami Gardens were among those who said they would issue mandatory mask orders, with Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber being the lone holdout.

“Obviously,” Gelber said, “if we get to a point where our health care system is going to be overrun, we’ll have to consider everything on the table.”

Palm Beach County commissioners will review a mandatory mask proposal this week. Lakeland and Jacksonville city leaders have opted not to do so.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez has encouraged police and code enforcement officers to ensure people are social distancing and businesses are complying with county reopening guidelines.

South Florida officials said an Instagram account, @covid_305, is posting videos of restaurants and hotels flouting social distancing and mask rules, and they’ll use them as evidence.

When Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings issued a mandatory face mask order June 17, concurrently imposed by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, he warned of an accompanying enforcement crackdown.

Over the weekend, the county shut down the Knights Pub in Orlando after a state inspector found patrons weren’t socially distancing and the pub was not following reopening rules.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation said Monday at least 13 pub employees and 28 patrons have tested positive for COVID-19.

Demings opted not to impose criminal penalties for noncompliance but said he’d do so if COVID-19 numbers continue to surge.

Nevertheless, three conservative Republicans filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Demings’ mandatory mask order.

State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger and Orange County Republican Party Chairman Charles Hart – as co-counsel and an individual, not on behalf of the committee – said Demings’ order is so vague pastors wonder whether they’ll be in violation while preaching unmasked from pulpits.

At a Monday news conference, Stemberger said the lawsuit would be dropped if Demings changed the word “require” to “recommend” for masks.

The order “was just poorly done. It’s draconian. It’s confusing, it’s contradictory and it’s unconstitutional,” Stemberger said. “The mayor is playing games. He’s saying it’s voluntary on one hand, but on the other, he’s saying, ‘Well, we may enforce it in the future. We’re not sure.’ ”

Demings said Monday the order “is a major approach in this community to responding appropriately to the current state of affairs regarding the COVID-19 virus that is raging amongst us.”

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