When Disney Springs welcomes guests back on Wednesday after two months of closure due to the coronavirus, customers will be required to wear a face mask. The same goes for visitors at Universal’s CityWalk and Tampa’s Florida Aquarium, which shifted course the day before reopening last week and required a mask.
Some people are angry about mask requirements, which leaves businesses and local governments struggling with the issue just as the state continues to reopen.
There have been reports of clashes between people at stores and confrontations in parks and at protests to reopen the state, where sign-wielding marchers have naked faces and little social distance.
Most people will admit wearing a face mask is not pleasant. They can fog up your glasses and hurt your ears. If you are cursed with allergies, they can become a sneezing mess, and they make breathing difficult. People complain of feeling hot and claustrophobic, and there are some who have true medical issues that make wearing a mask dangerous.
But there’s a running meme among medical workers: Do you know what’s even more uncomfortable? Wearing a ventilator.
It doesn’t help that the nation’s health care leaders have been uneven in their advice. In March, the U.S. surgeon general tweeted that people should stop hoarding masks so that medical workers could be supplied. Masks were helpful, the CDC advised, but should be reserved for front-line health care workers. A month later, the CDC recommended cloth masks for everyone.
But then the World Health Organization diverged from the CDC, writing, “Currently there is not enough evidence for or against the use of masks (medical or other) for healthy individuals in the wider community. WHO continues to recommend that medical masks be worn by individuals who are sick or those caring for them. WHO is actively studying the rapidly evolving science on masks and continuously updates its guidance."
The general guidelines currently state that since they have discovered that asymptomatic carriers can spread COVID-19, masks help reduce the spread of coronavirus when used by everybody.
Last Friday, when Universal reopened its CityWalk shopping and restaurant district, hundreds of people lined up to walk around the lagoon and snap up pink boxes of Voodoo Doughnuts. But there were complaints about the mask requirement.
“Wait until summer,” said Dustin Fraize of Orlando, a Universal annual passholder. “When it’s 100 degrees you’re going to have bodies dropping everywhere.”
Some see any requirement to mask up as a step on their personal freedoms, as protests continue for states to reopen, while others confront those without them.
A Sebring man threatened to shoot up a Publix because not enough people were wearing masks, and a Publix customer in Miami Beach became irate at being forced to wear one because there is a city ordinance there to wear one in stores. According to Miami police, he was seen on security cameras shouting, “You’re in violation of my constitutional and civil rights, there’s no pandemic. I’m filing a lawsuit. I’m allowed to buy groceries!”
Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of South Florida said the confusion from the medical experts is because "we learn as we go, so we have to continually adjust as information comes in."
“We now know that 25 percent of people exposed are asymptomatic, or have no symptoms at all, so there is some utility in wearing a mask to prevent other people from being infected by you,” Levine said. “It’s not just to protect you from COVID-19, it’s to prevent others from catching it should you be a carrier.”
Kristy Wade of Tampa, who works as a nurse, said she is surprised by the hostility she finds when wearing a mask in public.
“I’m getting hateful looks, people muttering incoherent things when I wear a mask out in public," she said. "I’m not going to stop, but what is wrong with people?”
South Tampa resident Rogan O’Handley, a writer and social media activist, recently had a Twitter video retweeted by President Donald Trump. His video showed a bar packed with people and he posted, “Uh oh, wouldn’t want the Commies in blue states to see us Floridians all out at bars having a good time with no face masks. Might destroy their narrative that everyone’s gonna die if we don’t live in a bubble forever!"
O’Handley said he thinks the decision to wear masks should be voluntary, not mandatory, but he laughed at the idea that is a “pro-choice” position.
“I assume the risk that comes with my decision and I’ve seen the data, so I am going to keep extra distance between myself and others, especially the elderly,” O’Handley said. “I think people that decide to go out to restaurants understand the risk involved and they can choose to stay inside.”
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information, six days a week
LOCAL RESTAURANTS: The updated database of Tampa Bay restaurants open for dine-in or takeout
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
BRIGHT SPOTS IN DARK TIMES: The world is hard right now, but there’s still good news out there
LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters
HAVE YOU LOST SOMEONE YOU LOVE TO COVID-19?: Help us remember them
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.