Masks debate

Face masks have become a heated topic of debate following the recent orders for them to be worn in public spaces. 

Donna Rowland hasn’t left her home in a month — except to get tested for COVID-19 once every week.

Rowland, a 63-year-old crisis supervisor at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare in Gainesville, is just one of the thousands of health care workers who tested positive for COVID-19.

Diagnosed April 8, she hasn’t shown any symptoms of the virus for more than two weeks. Still, all her tests have come back positive.

The Alachua County Commission released an updated emergency order Monday that requires residents to wear facial coverings in places where social distancing isn’t possible, like in restaurants and stores. Those not wearing masks can be fined. Exceptions are made for children under 6 and those with “demonstrable” medical conditions.

Rowland said she’s disappointed the county had to mandate people to wear masks in public.

“I would think that all citizens would care enough to wear a mask,” she said. “In fact, the regulation has caused some folks to refuse to wear one because they are being regulated.”

Ashley Wall, a 30-year-old Gainesville resident, shares the sentiment.

“Some people are willing to follow the order for their own health and safety of others,” she said, “And the other half have not been shy of making a spectacle about doing everything they can to get out of it.”

To Wall, masks should have been required the moment the countywide stay-at-home order was passed. However, she believes masks will not be effective in curbing the spread of the virus, because she’s seen a lot of Facebook posts from people who say they won’t follow the order.

“They say it won’t help and even go as far as saying that this order has taken away their freedom of choice,” she said. “It is better to take all precautions to protect yourself than none at all.”

B.J. Hock, on the other hand, refuses to wear a mask. He feels it isn’t legal for the county to require him to wear one.

The 39-year-old Gainesville resident believes masks don’t protect him or those around him. While he practices social distancing, he said he views the recent order as useless and ineffective. Masks allow droplets to escape, he said.

A recent study by the University of Hong Kong and the University of Maryland demonstrated that masks are effective at trapping droplets from coughs and sneezes. The study found that masks blocked almost 100 percent of viral and aerosol particles.

Infected people who didn’t wear masks released contagious droplets and aerosols nearly 30 percent of the time out of those tested, according to the study.

“The commission is confused, uninformed and power hungry,” Hock wrote on Facebook Messenger. “They have violated several rights and opened themselves up to large amounts of legal issues.”

Hock said he believes some businesses are violating medical privacy laws by requiring customers to wear masks. He’s seen advertisements from local law firms addressing anyone who has been asked to leave a store for this reason.

Rowland’s experience with the virus caused has her to question the county’s COVID-19 strategy.

“It may have worked better to explain to citizens how contagious this virus is,” Rowland said. “How you can be symptom-free and still be a carrier of this virus.”

Contact Hannah Bobek at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @hannahbobek.