By Joe Capozzi


Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coastal communities in south Palm Beach County are returning to mandates to wear protective masks while inside government buildings. 


But the mandates vary depending on the town. 


On July 29, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach started requiring vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear facial coverings while inside municipal buildings. Highland Beach adopted the same rule on Aug. 2.


On July 30, South Palm Beach started requiring anyone entering Town Hall to wear a mask, including employees unless they are sitting at their desks. 


Also on Aug. 2, Palm Beach County required protective masks for anyone in county buildings, including constitutional offices.


In Boca Raton and Ocean Ridge, the new rules don’t go that far. They exclude the public and require only municipal staff to wear masks at City or Town Hall and in police headquarters.


"We realize several cities have reimplemented their policies for face masks,’’ a Boca Raton spokesperson said. “At this time, we are requiring city staff to wear masks and strongly encourage the public to do so when in city facilities.’’


On Aug. 2, Ocean Ridge Town Manager Tracey Stevens asked the Town Council for a mask mandate that included the public, in accordance with CDC guidelines announced on July 27 to help contain the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. 


Stevens said she proposed the mandate after she and Police Chief Hal Hutchins met July 30 with the county’s Division of Emergency Management and learned the county has “high levels of community transmission.”


But a motion requiring anyone, including the public, visiting Ocean Ridge Town Hall and the police station to wear a mask did not pass. The vote was 2-2 with Commissioners Geoff Pugh and Steve Coz against and Vice Mayor Susan Hurlburt absent. 


Coz suggested the town encourage members of the public to wear a mask at Town Hall, a strategy questioned by another commissioner. 


“It is foolish to think that the unvaccinated people who are walking into Town Hall will actually go, ‘Oh yeah, let me put a mask on.' It's exactly those people that are so hard against masks,’’ Commissioner Martin Wiescholek said. 


Two residents spoke in favor of including the public in a mandate. 


“What's the big deal in wearing a mask and making sure people are safe?’’ asked Zoanne Hennigan, a former town commissioner. “Nobody is telling you you have to wear it everywhere else, just Town Hall.’’ 


Although Ocean Ridge’s mask policy applies only to employees, Stevens said a sign will be placed outside Town Hall suggesting visitors wear a protective covering. 


Delray Beach is also requiring employees to show proof of vaccination or COVID-19 test results. Delray Beach’s Fire Rescue Department will be administering vaccinations to employees as well as performing regular PCR testing.


“I understand that decisions regarding health care are extremely personal. However, given that much of the work that city staff performs involves highly essential services, we are obligated to offer protection to both staff and our residents,’’ new City Manager Terrence Moore said.
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