Some residents have expressed concerns this past week after The Villages relaxed its requirements for the use of face masks at recreational facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Signs now say that masks are “requested.” Those replaced the original ones that were posted at recreation centers when they started reopening earlier this month that “required” face coverings.
The decision to ease up on the mask policy in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown came as Disney World announced plans to open July 11 with a strict face-covering policy in place. The company said it even plans to go so far as to enact “high-energy squads” of employees who will roam the theme park to make sure people are wearing masks.
Here in The Villages, Fresh Market requires its customers to wear masks. They were mandatory at dog parks when they reopened earlier this month. And most restaurants that have reopened dining rooms have their wait staff and kitchen workers donning the protective face coverings, though one Villager reported an experience at Palmer Legends Country Club where a waitress said the owner left it up to the staff to decide.
Village of Duval resident Glenn Friedman is one of those residents who clearly is in favor of requiring masks. He said his wife is ill and he rarely leaves his home but when he has to go out, he wears a mask and wishes those around him would do the same.
“About 40 percent of this virus was caused by people without virus symptoms, so those of you without masks may be spreading a virus that you don’t even know you have. On that basis alone, you should show respect for your fellow Villagers by wearing a mask whenever you may be around people. If you don’t, shame on you,” Friedman said.
Village of Tamarind Grove resident MaryJo Beall agreed. She pointed out that The Villages has been fortunate to avoid the potentially powerful punch of the deadly Coronavirus – there were just 71 cases reported in the mega-retirement community on Friday and Sumter County was holding steady at 253 cases – and she’d like to keep it that way.
“We here in The Villages have been doing rather well with regard to the virus, partly due to the wearing of face masks,” Beall said. “Now is not the time to relax the wearing of face masks. The severe risks of COVID-19 are not over.”
Village of Santo Domingo resident Michael Ricci said he’s worried about what might happen as the economy continues to open up and more non-residents come into the community.
“These individuals may bring COVID-19 with them from out-of-state regions regarded as hot spots, which pose an additional risk to The Villages’ residents,” he said.
Other Villagers, however, said they are happy with the option to ditch masks if they so desire.
“Go ahead and wear one. That is your choice. But while you have the choice to wear or not wear the mask, do not at the same time take away my choice to not wear a mask or to wear one,” said Village of McClure resident Tammy Glanville.
“If you are at risk, wear one,” she said. “I am six feet away and two masks are redundant.”
Honold added that wearing a mask doesn’t make one virtuous.
“It displays your fear on your face and divides us yet one more way,” she said. “I tested negative in May and am claustrophobic so don’t call me stupid, ignorant, or rebellious. Fear and breathing your own breath are not good for you. I am also grateful to be free to choose.”
Many Villagers will remember the mask controversy heating up earlier this month when Recreation Director John Rohan made a one-hour presentation to the Amenity Authority Committee without a face covering in place. At the time, masks were mandatory – all committee members, the district manager, the AAC’s attorney and the chief of The Villages Public Safety Department complied – and the sign requiring them was posted just outside the door to the room where Rohan spoke.
Of course, we all know the mask debate won’t end anytime soon. There’s so much we still don’t know about the COVID-19 virus, including all of the facts about the benefits of wearing masks. But we do know that those face coverings can help prevent people from spreading respiratory droplets, which is how the virus is spread.
If you ask us, the decision about whether or not to wear a mask is quite simple. It’s really no different than if you’re going to visit someone who prefers that you take off your shoes or refrain from smoking in their home. You wouldn’t demand to keep your shoes on or insist on lighting up, so why not act the same way when masks are requested at recreational facilities?
Frankly, it’s a simple solution and one that makes perfect sense when you think about it. And if has the potential to help stop the spread among Villagers who are in the most vulnerable age groups, it’s also a no-brainer.