Broward County, FL has been hit hard by COVID-19. Cases are growing and ICU capacity is shrinking. So last Thursday, the county released a new emergency order. The order limits gatherings to no more than 10 people, mandates masks, and establishes a nightly curfew. But one section of the emergency order has turned heads: could Broward County really be ordering residents to wear masks inside their own homes?
In Broward County’s Emergency Order 20-22 Section 4.A., County Administrator Bertha Henry writes,
All persons who reside on any residential property, whether single family or multi-family, and irrespective of whether they own or rent the property, must ensure that all persons on the residential property, including guests, comply with all applicable guidelines of any Broward County Emergency Order, including the facial covering requirement.
The way that order sounds, people must wear masks when on residential property. Many on Twitter expressed outrage.
Broward County orders that you must wear a mask IN YOUR HOME!!! 🚨🚨🚨 pic.twitter.com/Zw9JoWflan
— Patrick Howley (@HowleyReporter) July 20, 2020
What does Emergency Order 20-22 really say?
This afternoon, when I spoke on the phone with Lori Shepard, Media Liaison for the Office of Public Communications, it seemed like she wasn’t aware of a rule that said residents needed to mask up in their own homes. “If you’re in your own home and you’re with your family… the county is not asking you wear a mask,” Shepard said. “If you have visitors to your home, for persons more than 10, then they need to be wearing a mask.”
I asked for clarification, and Shepard read through the section again. She noted that the order actually limits gatherings to fewer than 10 people.
“If somebody comes into your house and they’re not a family member, you should ask them to wear a mask,” she said.
Emergency Order 20-22 appears to be an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through house parties and large social gatherings, not to restrict people in their homes. The County’s website reads:
The measures are designed to help curtail house parties, street parties and other large social gatherings that are contributing to community spread of the virus. Short-term vacation rentals are also impacted by the order, and there are new requirements for restaurants, gym and fitness centers, and operators and landlords of commercial properties that have retail establishments.
The messaging on the new order is unclear, however. It’s hard to imagine that the county intended to mandate that people wear masks inside their own homes with those who live with them. Instead, it seems from Shepard’s comments and Broward County’s stated intent that the emergency order is meant to curtail parties. So people must mask up when they have guests over.
Beyond that, though, we really can’t speculate on Broward County’s intent with this Emergency Order. County Administrator Bertha Henry and Mayor Dale Holness have not responded to our requests for comment. We’ll update this post if we hear back from them.