‘We’re not wearing masks to protect ourselves; we’re wearing masks to protect our community’

OKEECHOBEE — The use of cloth face masks to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus was once again a topic of discussion at the July 16 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission.

As the start of school approaches, Okeechobee County officials want to make sure there are enough face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Mitch Smeykal of the Okeechobee Emergency Operations Center said he put in a request for more cloth masks, anticipating the increased need for masks when school starts, but was unable to get more cloth masks from the state. He said they got 79,000 surgical masks instead. “We are leaning forward with the school stuff,” he said. “We know we are going to need a lot of masks for them.”

In the public comments period of the meeting, Dean Irvine brought up the need for everyone to wear face masks in public places.

“First I wold like to address Mr. (Bryant) Culpepper because first thing this morning he came up to me and explained to me how small the particles of the coronavirus are, and this mask would not protect me,” said Irvine.

“What he is missing is this mask isn’t to protect me. It is to suppress a cough, to make the cough as small as possible so the disease is not spread.

“We’re not wearing masks to protect ourselves. We’re wearing masks to protect the community,” he said. “Your advice is wrong,” he told Culpepper.

“I am sure that you are told that you can’t mandate masks by the governor of this state. Am I wrong?” he asked the board.

“That doesn’t require a response from us,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs.

“I think some of you, if it weren’t for orders from above, would mandate masks, and you are not allowed to,” alleged Irvine.

He said it has been proven that masks help stop the spread of the virus. “It has been proven that it works,” he said.

“It has to be universal. Everyone has to wear them. If not, you’ve accomplished nothing. It’s the weak link in the chain,” he said.

“If there was ever a poster child of needing to wear a mask, it is our county,” he said. “There are a lot of vulnerable people in this county … these people should be protected, but they are not.”

Public Safety Officer Ralph Franklin said on Saturday, July 18, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. there will be walk up COVID-19 testing for anyone who wishes to be tested at the Florida Department of Health office in Okeechobee, 1728 N.W. Ninth Ave. No symptoms are required. Testing will be open to the public.

Franklin said the Treasure Coast Food Bank will be at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center on July 18 from 9 to 11 a.m. Preregistration is required. Food bank visits are also planned for Aug. 14 and Sept. 26. Text HUNGER to 21000 for preregistration information.

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