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This week, Florida reported 9,585 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day on Saturday, June 27th – exceeding its previous record of 8,942 new cases reached just a day before. As I write this, Florida is projected to become the next epicenter of the national health crisis. Despite these alarming figures, many Florida residents are still not taking the necessary safety precautions. As a result, Palm Beach County made face masks mandatory for all its residents. This sparked outbursts from angry residents who are against the measure. Images and videos from the Palm Beach County public comment session of the commissioner’s meeting have begun circulating the media, demonstrating the strong opposition that exists against mandatory public health safety measures.

At the same, I have continued with the mask distribution efforts at DOH-Manatee and have actually adopted a larger role within the project. Whereas previously I was only contacting faith-based organizations in the area, I have extended my outreach to food pantries, local businesses, and summer programs. To date, my team – which is primarily composed of myself and two other staff members – has distributed close to 300,000 face masks.

As my team and I begin to receive praise for our outreach efforts, I cannot help but think about the gaps that still exist. As I walk around my own community, many residents are not wearing masks in public spaces, further contributing to the local spread of COVID-19. Many experts in the medical field, including Duke’s infectious disease specialists, have commented on how wearing masks will help prevent another shutdown. So why not wear a mask?

These expert recommendations juxtaposed with the public resistance seen in Florida forces public health officials to ponder how to create a sense of urgency to motivate everyone to take steps that will help protect them and others in their community. This is undeniably a tough question – one I am still trying to wrap my head around. Although seeing the angry residents rallying against face masks on tv is frustrating, I recognize that shaming those individuals may not be the answer. Shame causes individuals to shut down to any further recommendations. Lack of health education is also at play here as highlighted by one of my conversations with a migrant health community coordinator: “We can’t blame them for not knowing. We just can’t.” 

So how do we move forward? I seek to find an answer in the coming weeks.