Hundreds of local medical professionals call for mask ordinances

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Posted July 20, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Executive Editor

Nearly 700 Marion County medical professionals – doctors, physicians assistants, nurses and others – have signed a petition they plan to present to city and county governing boards seeking ordinances that require masks be worn much of the time to stem the growing incidence of COVID-19 in our community.

“The members of this group respectfully request that our County and City Officials pass an ordinance requiring the use of face masks or face shields by the public in all indoor settings, and all outdoor settings when social distancing (six feet or more), cannot be achieved and maintained,” reads the petition that was started by a group of local doctors. “We believe that any violation of this ordinance should be limited to a civil infraction only, not criminally punishable.”

One of the organizers of the petition, Dr. David Kuhn, said the move to request the mask mandate came as coronavirus cases in Marion County began to spike in the past couple of weeks.

“This group of doctors began to get restless as our numbers began to jump over the past two weeks,” Kuhn said.

Since July 1, coronavirus cases in Marion County have more than tripled, and Thursday saw the biggest one-day number of new cases yet. The only way to begin to stem the rising number of cases is to get the majority of people wearing masks in pubic, Kuhn said.

“If this trend stays as it is,” Kuhn said, “our numbers are going to just get bigger and bigger. I really worry, as do a lot of other doctors, is what happens in our hospitals.”

Kuhn, an internist, said while local hospitals have adequate numbers of ventilators, medications and protective equipment, he worries about there being enough hospital beds long term and, more important, enough health care workers to sustain a drawn-out rise in pandemic numbers in Marion County.

“It’s really emotionally exhausting … because we’re worried about our own lives and worried whether we’re going to bring this virus home to our families,” he said. “If we don’t try to mitigate this, this is just going to go on for months. So, if we want to prevent another lockdown, we feel the only way to do that is through more masking.

“It will result in fewer lives lost. It will reduce our hospitalization burden. It’s the only way to attempt to keep our economy open.”

The 1,750-word petition will be sent to the Marion County Commission, the Ocala City Council and the Marion County School Board requesting each board enact an ordinance or policy mandating masks be worn.  It cites widespread support for masks across the medical community:

“The basis of these recommendations stems not only from the expertise of your local physicians and health care providers. The universal use of face masks and strict application of social distancing to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 has been publicly recommended by the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and many other organizations.”

It goes on to cite numerous studies that show in places where face mask mandates have been implemented there were dramatic declines in the spread of the virus, and in some cases cut the number of new infections to near zero.

“The scientific evidence and the governing bodies of health and medicine referenced above demonstrate overwhelming support of the effectiveness of face masks in significantly reducing the spread of COVID-19, while serving as the primary mitigation measure in an open and vibrant economy operating during a pandemic. But masks will only work to slow the spread if a vast majority of our citizens wear them,” the petition reads.

Kuhn and his fellow petition supporters intend to appear before the City Council on Tuesday. They plan to argue that without widespread use of masks, the virus will only intensify and grow, and the community will incur dramatic health and economic losses.

The petition also rejects the notion that because enforcing a mask ordinance would be difficult, it should not deter elected officials from supporting an ordinance. There are plenty of ordinances on the books, they say, that are difficult to enforce, yet they are good ideas and in the community’s best interest.

Finally, the petition concludes:

“Collectively, we should all be in support of mitigation measures such as wearing face masks in public, social distancing and frequent hand-washing during a pandemic and it has become apparent that ‘strong recommendations’ in favor of wearing masks are having no impact on community spread. In fact, we are in a worse position now than at any point during this entire pandemic. We trust that you, our local leaders and elected officials, will respect our medical community’s opinion on this matter, as we will collectively be forced to confront and contend with the shortcomings of any inaction within our hospitals and intensive care units.”

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