By Joe Capozzi
Anyone, including the public, must now wear a protective mask when entering Ocean Ridge Town Hall.
The Town Commission agreed to the policy Sept. 7 at the request of Vice Mayor Susan Hurlburt.
An earlier effort to approve the same mask mandate failed Aug. 2 because Hurlburt was absent. The commission voted 2-2 on the policy, but a majority vote was required to pass it.
Instead, the commission that day agreed to require only municipal staff to wear masks at Town Hall and in police headquarters, with the public being excluded from the mandate.
On Sept. 7, Hurlburt said the pandemic is too deadly and unpredictable for the town to take any chances.
Boca Raton’s mask mandate excludes the public. But Hurlburt noted that just about all other neighboring municipalities have required the public to wear masks in government buildings, in accordance with CDC guidelines to help contain the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“Any and every extra level of protection needs to be utilized until it’s under control,’’ Hurlburt said. “For one more layer of protection, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people who come into Town Hall.’’
Commissioner Geoff Pugh reluctantly agreed with the change, saying he’d go along with whatever was needed to make town staff comfortable.
“I am vaccinated. I cannot wear a mask. It just drives me crazy,’’ he said. “If staff voted as a whole to say yes, we want (the public to wear) masks and at a certain time, I have no problem with it. I just think some of it is a little over the top. I’m sitting 3 feet away from each one of you. So what does this do?’’
“We know we are vaccinated,’’ Hurlburt replied. “We don’t know whoever comes into Town Hall isn’t.’’
Mayor Kristine de Haseth said the town staff is vulnerable because it is small.
“If we lose one or two members and the rest have to go into quarantine, our Town Hall could be shut down. It’s not even worth, in my opinion, to be even having this discussion,’’ she said.
“If there is one small thing we can do that would save somebody, none of us are experts, and it changes so quickly, but I would think that we could make a decision on something that is very, very easy and very, very simple than make the wrong decision and have that on our backs.’’
About 70% of the Police Department employees are vaccinated, Chief Richard Jones said.
He also said that more police employees have tested positive in the past four months than during the first phase of the pandemic.
“If we lose staff, especially in dispatch where they are sharing the same equipment over and over from one shift to the next, if I lose two people in dispatch, I’m going to be critically unable to answer 911s without having to man those stations by (paying) overtime to police officers,’’ the chief said.
“It doesn’t hurt us to wear masks. Our employees are mostly doing it anyways. There is no opposition from us.’’