Department of Health receives push back from Shalimar mayor about acting ’forcefully’ on wearing masks

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

Not long after Okaloosa Dr. Karen Chapman sent an email to county leaders urging them to “act forcefully on the issue of face coverings,” she was receiving push back from Shalimar Mayor Mark Franks.

Chapman sent an email just before 8:30 a.m. Thursday to the five county commissioners, the county administrator, the public safety director and hospital CEO’s.

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In it she described the dire straits the county finds itself in because of the coronavirus — a current average of 86.7 new cases per day, a 13.5 percent positivity rate among those tested, an increase from three to 43 in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 since June 7, 24 in ICU care, six on ventilators and two deaths reported Thursday.

“We are at a critical junction,” Chapman told the group. “Our last line of defense is the addition of the use of face coverings/masks by the vast majority of residents along with physical distancing, hand washing, and staying home when sick.”

Chapman provided evidence of the impact masks can have on preventing the spread of the coronavirus by sharing the saga of an Okaloosa hair salon where one employee had infected another during an unmasked meeting in a break room area.

The two wore masks while working, however, and “served 26 customers while both workers were infectious,” Chapman told commissioners.

“No clients became infected,” she said. “This was our first evidence that cloth face coverings can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

“Implementing more than a strong recommendation to wear masks is needed in Okaloosa County,” Chapman wrote in the email. She said the CDC has predicted the virus could be brought under control in one to two months if everyone wore masks.

Four hours to the minute after Chapman sent her email, Franks shared publicly his reaction to it with an email of his own addressed to her.

“Question: Who’s going to enforce this face covering mandate? I highly doubt it will be the Okaloosa Sheriff’s Department,” Franks wrote. “I will tell you as Mayor I will never support mandating masks in the town of Shalimar.”

Franks, who headed the Okaloosa County Republican Executive Committee before becoming mayor, informed Chapman he intends to contact Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office to ask for an executive order banning counties and municipalities from mandating face coverings.

“In my opinion, what you are demanding is government overreach, so I have asked each county commissioner to please respect individual liberty and let ‘the people’ make their own decision regarding masks,” he said.

Okaloosa County Administrator John Hofstad said there had been considerable discussion about Chapman’s email since it arrived Thursday morning and it likely would be a topic of conversation Tuesday when the Board of County Commissioners next meets.

“Until that time we will operate under the original executive directive strongly encouraging the wearing of masks,” Hofstad said.

Asked whether the Sheriff’s Office would enforce a mandatory face mask policy, Sheriff’s Office Undersheriff Steve Harker said “we don’t have details and don’t discuss hypotheticals.”