Face Mask debate in Alachua County

Some residents believe face masks are becoming a political issue. 

Dean Tate drives 30 minutes to Marion County each week so he can shop without getting dirty looks.

The 55-year-old Gainesville resident said he makes the commute twice a week so he can “use his dollars to make a point.” Last time, he spent a little more than $800 to make that point: shopping mask-free.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ June 3 order relaxed businesses’ reopening requirements as Florida moved into Phase 2 of the Plan for Florida’s Recovery. However, Alachua County’s emergency order still requires the use of face masks in public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible, like in stores. Marion County doesn’t.

While Tate isn’t entirely opposed to face masks, he said he’s frustrated by Alachua County’s face mask requirement. Though he wears a mask while working as a butcher, he said he believes they can cause more harm than good. After talking to health care workers, Tate believes wearing a face mask incorrectly can cause cross contamination, further spreading the virus.

People are pressured by the government to wear masks, Tate said. If they don't, “they could kill grandpa.” 

Tate said he was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection in January, which he now believes was COVID-19 after testing positive for antibodies in April.

Tate still takes precautions, like hand washing and sanitizing his home, to ensure that his family members don’t get sick, but doesn’t approve of the mask requirement.

Like Tate, Christy Inks, 49, an Alachua resident and thrift shop owner, said she has also stopped wearing face masks. She feels it is no longer necessary.

The Alachua County requirement isn’t based on science, she said. Instead, it's based on local government telling residents what to do.

Inks said she doesn’t believe that masks are still necessary after precautions like providing hand sanitizer and closing her own store from March to April were taken. “I have gotten dirty looks for not wearing a mask, and I have seen others give people dirty looks for wearing masks because they think they are ‘sheeple,’” Inks said.

In the end, wearing a mask is a matter of personal choice, she said.

Dr. Cindy Prins, an associate professor of epidemiology at UF, said there is still a need for masks because they’re one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is transmitted through airborne droplets. As the state reopens and positive cases across the state and county rise, Prins said there’s still risk of contracting the virus.

“A mask can break what we call the ‘chain of transmission’ of the virus,” Prins said. “People can still do the same things they did before, but you’ve got to do it with precautions, and that includes wearing a mask.”

Brent Pope, a Gainesville resident and owner of Ovation Homecare, a consulting group for aging residents, has worn a face mask in public the last two months and doesn’t plan on stopping now.

The 55-year-old, like many others, researched the effectiveness of masks before they became mandatory. He said he learned masks aren’t about protecting oneself, but about protecting others.

Some people view face masks as a limitation of freedom, Pope said. While shaming people for not wearing masks can promote healthy habits, refusing to wear a mask is also an expression of opinion.

“If we would step back and say ‘Hey, let's talk about the philosophy that is driving our decisions and our opinions about this,’” Pope said. “We might have more productive conversations there. These are trying times. Grace is always a good policy.”

Contact Serra at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SerraSowers.

Staff Writer

Serra Sowers covers metro Gainesville news for The Alligator. She is a rising Freshman at University of Florida majoring in Journalism. In her free time, she enjoys photography, surfing, and spending time with friends and family.