Senior citizens group wants mask ordinance in Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — A group of senior citizens plans to protest the Okeechobee County commissioners’ failure to require everyone to wear masks in public buildings … just as soon as the weather cools off.

At the July 2 commission meeting, during the public comments period, Dean Irvine spoke on behalf of “a geriatric group,” and asked the county to enact and enforce a rule requiring masks be worn in stores and other public buildings.

“I have been asked by a geriatric group to talk for them,” he explained. “They are scared to death about not being able to see their grandchildren or their great-grandbabies.”

He said the senior citizens feel the county commission’s decision not to consider a mask mandate “was made on Republican Party lines and has nothing to do with science.”

“It was not made on any type of lines whatsoever,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs. “I basically asked the commissioners what their thoughts were on having a mask ordinance.” He said the other commissioners did not show any interest in having a mask ordinance.

He said he personally does not believe it is government’s right to dictate to the public that they should wear a mask. He said people should make the decision on their own to wear masks to protect themselves and others.

“I don’t have enough law enforcement to stand in front of Publix or Home Depot and make them wear a mask,” he said.

“You go to Walmart and people are not wearing masks. They (the seniors) don’t go to Walmart anymore. They’re on fixed incomes but they’re having people shop for them because they are scared to death to go to Walmart because of all of the people who don’t have masks on,” said Irvine. “I don’t think that’s fair to them.”

Commissioner David Hazellief said if you pick up your food at Walmart, there is no additional charge. He said there are other places in town where you can order your food and pick it up.

County buildings have signs that anyone who enters must wear a mask, Irvine continued.

“At Walmart, there is no sign on the door that you have to wear a mask,” he said. “You’ve taken care of the county buildings, but you haven’t taken care of the rest of us.”

“We’re the county government, we make decisions for county buildings,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread. He said it is his opinion the county does not have the authority to make that decision for privately owned buildings.

“They are upset,” said Irvine of the senior citizens. “They are going to come protest. You are going to have a bunch of geriatrics on your lawn out here … I don’t know when because it has been too hot recently.

“You will have a lot of blue hair on that lawn protesting this commission,” he said.

“I’m a big boy and I have broad shoulders,” said Goodbread. “I can take protests, and they have the right to protest.” He noted that gathering in a large group to protest could increase their risk of exposure to the virus. To protect their own health, it might be safer if they wrote a letter to the newspaper, he added.

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