Local leaders respond to rise in COVID-19 cases ahead of holidays

Coronavirus Pandemic

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — With Thanksgiving around the corner, local leaders are urging residents to continue wearing masks and social-distancing as COVID-19 numbers rise in the local community and across the Sunshine State.

A new COVID-19 testing site is opening on Monday at the Panama City Beach Sports Complex as the demand for testing has increased in the area.

“Don’t ever say it could get worse because it can get worse,” said Robert Carroll, Chairman of the Bay County Commission. “We’re hoping not, we just have to keep encouraging people to keep their distance, limit their spacing, don’t be in those large crowds because that’s where we know it spreads. It spreads at weddings and funerals and large gatherings and just have to do your part.”

Local government leaders across Florida are also urging Governor Ron DeSantis to rethink his approach to the recent rise in cases, as his Phase Three reopening order restricts local governments from enforcing mask mandates like in Panama City Beach this past summer.

“You never like to have the state come in and remove your ability to take care of your local people and local residents and visitors,” said Geoff McConnell, a Panama City Beach Councilman.

He said he doesn’t see the council going against the Governor’s office even with the rise in cases, adding that there could be legal ramifications from the state if they tried to.

“We do have to respect the governor’s executive order,” he said. “I don’t believe until he rescinds that executive order that you’re going to see the ability of any local government to be able to respond to that.”

State Agriculture Commissioner, Nikki Fried, said on Friday that she believes the Governor’s order is irresponsible. 

“The governor needs to let local electeds who know their communities be able to do what they were elected to do and that is to serve and protect their communities,” Fried said.

In Panama City and at the county level, leaders maintain that mask-wearing remains a personal responsibility.

“We can’t force someone to wear a mask, we can’t force someone to wear a seatbelt but it is required,” Carroll said. “We do ask that everyone just continue to do their part.”

Ahead of Thanksgiving, Fried said everyone needs to work together.

“We’ve got to make sure that we are being responsible, taking it upon ourselves,” she said. “That way we can collectively prevent any future shutdowns.”

COVID-19 cases and the case positivity rate has been steadily increasing over the past couple of weeks in Bay County.

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