JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A judge on Monday upheld the city of Jacksonville's mask mandate, and Mayor Lenny Curry extended it for another 30 days to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Circuit Court Judge Katie Dearing ruled that Curry acted within his authority to issue the requirement in June. Dearing said it's not the role of a judge to second-guess a decision made by another branch of government about a measure aimed at protecting the general public.
The lawsuit filed by Jason French, who was represented by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, wanted Dearing to issue a temporary injunction on grounds the mask requirement violated privacy rights and is not effective at curbing the spread of the virus.
Dearing said "wearing a mask to prevent the spread of an airborne virus is no more intrusive than wearing a helmet" while riding a motorcycle.
Dearing's order said French presented "opinion testimony" that the masks are not proven to slow the spread of the virus, but that is not a question for a judge to figure out.
"It is not up to the court to determine whether masks reduce the spread of the virus, though there are many studies suggesting they do, including those cited by the city's expert," Dearing said. "It is no more the court's job to impose a mask requirement on the citizenry based on these studies than to invalidate a mask requirement based on the opinion of plaintiff's expert."
Her order said at least seven other Florida courts have "rejected virtually identical arguments" that a local mask mandate is unconstitutional.
Curry's emergency executive proclamations last one month at a time so the mandate would have ended Sunday if not for the extension. The requirement applies to wearing masks in indoor spaces that are open to the public when it's not possible to practice social distancing.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis moved the state Friday into the next phase of reopening, he suspended the ability of local governments to collect fines for violations of their mask mandates. But DeSantis's executive order does not prevent emergency local governments from requiring masks.
In Jacksonville's case, it does not impose any penalties in connection with the mask requirements. But the existence of the proclamation means businesses can point to a government requirement when posting signs about wearing masks in their buildings.
The extension by Curry will continue the mask mandate through 5 p.m. Oct. 27 when it will expire unless he keeps it for another month at that point. Curry has joined area hospital executives in promoting the use of masks and appeared in a video touting the public health benefits.
The executive proclamation requires every "operator, employee, customer or patron" of a business establishment to wear a face mask or covering at all times unless they can do social distancing, which is staying six feet apart.
The proclamation also makes an exception in cases where wearing a mask interferes with the services provided by the business such as restaurants, barber shops and hair salons, or dentist offices.
The proclamation says the operator and employees of the business are responsible for ensuring compliance.
The requirement does not apply to children 6 years old and younger.