Mask-wearing grocery shopper

Many residents choosing to visit retailers voluntarily wear protective face coverings for personal protection. While many communities in Florida are requiring face masks in public, Citrus is not one of them.

Commissioner Brian Coleman was riding with a county staffer Monday morning inspecting code violations. Both were in a single vehicle together, he said, wearing face masks.

Coleman, the county commission chairman, was only one of five commissioners at last Tuesday’s board meeting wearing a mask.

And while Coleman says he takes a mask everywhere he goes, he said he will not be asking the board for an emergency face mask ordinance for Citrus County.

“The outcry from the community is not there,” Coleman said.

Coleman, who has led teleconference meetings with representatives from the cities, sheriff’s office, chamber of commerce and health department, gradually mentioned the idea of a face mask ordinance during last week’s county commission meeting.

He doesn’t plan to bring it up for a vote.

“The board’s not going in that direction right now,” he said. “I don’t get the sense the community leaders are looking at it right now.”

As with other parts of Florida, Citrus County has seen a surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases the past few weeks. As of Monday, Citrus had 284 cases — including 107 new cases the past 10 days, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have issued rules requiring face masks worn in public or where social distancing isn’t possible. Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted calls for Florida to do the same, numerous cities or counties — including Jacksonville, Tampa, Pasco, Hillsborough, Hillsborough and Gadsden counties — have face mask mandates for public places.

Citrus County Commissioner Jeff Kinnard, who participated in three county commission meetings remotely, said he requires face masks in his chiropractor’s office, but doesn’t want to mandate it countywide.

“We continually work at educating people, trying to encourage more people to wear masks,” he said. “We don’t want to get into a situation where we have to issue citations.”

Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith, whose “mission accomplished” remark during a recent board meeting was rebuffed by health director Ernest “Tito” Rubio, said he sees no need for any type of government mandate during the pandemic.

“The science is still out on the benefit of it,” Smith said of wearing masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks to prevent spread of the virus.

Citrus County businesses seem split on whether to require masks of employees and customers, said Josh Wooten, chamber of commerce president and chief executive officer.

“The anti-maskers are really anti-maskers. The pro-maskers are pro-maskers,” he said. “The people like me in the middle … I want to kill this damn virus. The quicker we can get past this the quicker we can open up completely.”

The Citrus County chamber received 10,000 masks from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and is providing them at no charge to front-line workers  restaurant employees, hotel desk clerks, barbers and stylists.

“That’s our way of getting these people masked up and encouraging them to wear them,” Wooten said. “We’re not at the point of asking the county government to mandate it.”

Kinnard said he’s heard the mask debate and is taking the side of caution.

“If it helps at all in slowing the spread of the virus,” he said,” it’s worthwhile.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.