Poll: Palm Beach County must keep mask mandate; work to be done for equal COVID vaccine access

March 31, 2021 6:00am
Hannah Morse

Nine long months have passed since Palm Beach County commissioners approved a countywide mask mandate, put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Nine long months have passed since Palm Beach County commissioners approved a countywide mask mandate, put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

But even as the county inches closer toward its 400,000th resident vaccinated against the respiratory illness, county political and business leaders polled by The Palm Beach Post say now isn't the time to lift this safety measure.

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"There is no reason to lift all common sense precautions just because we are tired of the COVID restrictions," Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Mark Marciano said. "We can feel that life is getting 'back to normal.' I would encourage people to enjoy life, prepare for normalcy but maintain precautions until we have a greater percentage of people vaccinated."

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Rolando Barrero, president of the Palm Beach County chapter of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida, said personal responsibility is an important factor.

"The goal is zero deaths due to COVID-19," he said. "Until such time that we are close to herd immunity, all businesses and individuals should take any and all precautions to alleviate the possibilities of spreading the virus."

It's possible that the decision may be out of local leaders' hands, as Gov. Ron DeSantis has honed in on limiting the emergency powers of local governments. In September, he prevented local governments from fining individuals who violated local COVID-19 rules, like mask mandates, and this month ordered local governments to cancel fines levied against people and businesses.

For this month's Palm Beach Post Power Poll, 284 influencers were asked whether vaccine distribution in the county has been equitable if the county's mask mandate and business restrictions should be lifted and whether the influencers polled have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

COVID restrictions should stay in place

Of the 84 who responded to poll questions, almost 80 percent, or 67 people, said COVID restrictions should stay in place. Another majority, almost 60 percent, said the vaccine was not distributed as equitably as possible. Fewer than half the respondents had received the vaccine already.

"While I feel we might be able to relax some of the life-saving steps in place for businesses I believe the wearing of face masks in public should remain in place," said Greg Rice of Hulett Environmental Services. "Yes, they might be uncomfortable, but most of us are used to them now. Why not keep the mask requirement in place until after Labor Day to see where (we are) at?"

Palm Beach County and the state have not had the smoothest vaccine distribution rollout, influencers said. Whether it's the email requests that overwhelmed the health department, or the early-hour, the dog-eat-dog system under Publix that left seniors frustrated and underserved communities left out, or the seniors so desperate for an appointment they drove hundreds of miles for a shot, influencers say there's work left to be done to make sure everyone has equal access to the vaccine.

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"The rollout for the state has been an inequitable mess, and while some things like the establishment of PODs (points of distribution) in underserved areas have improved as the state has provided more vaccine doses to the county and established some on their own, the confusion about teacher vaccinations is unacceptable," Gardens Vice Mayor Rachelle Litt, referring to federal vaccine sites allowing teachers to get vaccinated, but not state-run sites.

Palm Beach County does not yet have a federal vaccine site, so it is restricted to the rules set by DeSantis.

Former county GOP chair Sid Dinerstein said DeSantis "has it right."

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"If the goal is fewer deaths sooner, then the age metric is our best shot. (Pun intended)," Dinerstein said. "The older you are the sooner you get vaccinated. Yes, health care workers and medically compromised individuals get to cut the line. But not teachers."

Dinerstein felt that adding teachers to the mix of those eligible for the vaccine, "or any other politically powerful group," would leave "some number of older people (to) die, unnecessarily."

Getting the COVID vaccine

On the other hand, those influencers who had received a COVID vaccine shot said the experience of getting injected was smooth and organized.

Many reported typical reactions like a headache or body chills, symptoms that surface as the body learns to fight off future infection.

"The second shot caused some flu-like symptoms for a few hours," Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Mark Marciano said. "I'd suggest people plan a light day following their second shot."

hmorse@pbpost.com

@mannahhorse

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