Lakeland commissioners narrowly vote to extend mask mandate

The hotly-debated issue of masks was up for debate once again in Lakeland as commissioners faced a decision about extending the mask order for another month -- but this time around commissioners had a few additional things factoring into their decision.

Lakeland's mask order requires anyone who lives, works, visits, does business in the city of Lakeland to wear a face covering in any indoor location other than their home when social distancing is not possible.

The mandate also stated that if an individual was not in compliance with the order, they could be cited and fined up to $250.

Around the time when commissioners last extended this order at the beginning of August, school wasn’t back in session yet. 

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Since school started on August 2, the Polk County School District has seen just over 70 cases of COVID-19 across all their schools. Students are required to wear masks while in the classroom, and some commissioners said they want to keep in line with what the districts are asking of their students and staff.

Commissioners said they are also taking the numbers into account. Cases are on the decline in Polk County, and the day-to-day numbers are lower than what they were when commissioners extended this order back in August. 

In July, the county was looking at roughly 279 new cases every day. In August, that number dropped to 146, and this month, Polk County is reporting about 123 cases a day. 

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Commissioners said they’re looking to the experts now to know if this decrease could be related to the mask order they put in place at the back in July

“Would be kinda nice if there was an expert to help us think about those two opposing viewpoints," said Stephanie Madden, a commissioner, "Is it now safe to take them off because numbers are down or is it prudent to keep them another month because it’s actually what’s keeping the numbers down?"

Ultimately, commisioners voted four to three to extend the mask order until at least October 5.