Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Idaho, S.D. aren’t mask-free


Without masks and a vaccine, we could reach Herd Immunity from COVID-19, but deaths would skyrocket. We break down the science of it.


The claim: Florida, Georgia, Idaho, South Dakota and Tennessee are now mask-free

A viral meme claiming five states are do not have facial covering requirements has been circulating on social media. In the image, two women posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge make the “V” peace sign with their fingers. Text over the image reads, “Florida, Georgia, Idaho, South Dakota and Tennessee are now mask free!” 

The Facebook user who posted the image did not return a request for comment. 

Similar posts, with several or all of the states listed, have gone viral, as well.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, 33 states have mandated cloth face masks, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say can slow or prevent the virus’ spread. 

More: Fact check: What’s true and what’s false about face masks?

Localized mask mandates mean states are not ‘mask-free’ 

It’s true that none of the five states in the viral meme has statewide mask mandates, but several large cities and counties have implemented their own.

In Florida, Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County, Tampa and Hillsborough County have mask requirements. However, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Sept. 25 that took the teeth out of those requirements. Under the order, local governments can not charge fines or penalties for noncompliance with local mask mandates.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who announced Monday that she had tested positive for COVID-19, is mandating the use of face masks in the city. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp previously banned local ordinances requiring masks. On Aug. 15, he revised the order, allowing for local ordinances to protect public health. Atlanta, Savannah, Athens-Clarke County and other large Georgia counties have implemented mask mandates.

Idaho has has allowed employers and local government bodies to enact restrictions to protect public health. The city of Boise, along with at least seven counties in eastern Idaho have mandated masks.

South Dakota: More than a month after Brookings passed mask mandate, community still torn

In South Dakota, the city of Brookings — home of South Dakota State University — requires masks to be worn in public. Mayors of other large cities like Sioux Falls, as well as some counties have urged the public to wear masks, but stopped short of issuing an ordinance, according to previous reporting by the USA TODAY Network.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and state health officials have urged residents to “wear face coverings in public places.”

Tennessee: White House says TN mask mandate ‘must be implemented’

Lee has left it up to counties to decide whether to implement a mask mandate, and Tennessee’s major cities and counties have done so, including Nashville and Davidson County, and Knox, Hamilton and Shelby counties, which are home to Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis, respectively. Sullivan County, which houses the Tri-Cities area of Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol also has a local mask mandate. 

Our ruling: Partly false

While it’s true that Florida, Georgia, Idaho, South Dakota and Tennessee have not issued statewide mask mandates, local government bodies have issued ordinances requiring citizens in large population centers and smaller municipalities to wear masks while in public. Because masks are required in parts of each state, these states can not be considered “mask-free.” We rate this claim as PARTLY FALSE, based on our research.

Our fact-check sources

  • AARP. Oct. 16. 2020: State by State Guide to Face Mask Requirements.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aug. 7, 2020: Considerations for Wearing Masks: Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19.
  • Miami-Dade County, Florida. Oct. 4, 2020: Amendment Two to Miami-Dade County Emergency Order 2020.
  • Palm Beach County, Florida. June 24, 2020: Emergency Order 12, Palm Beach County COVID-19 Additional Directive on Wearing of Face Coverings.
  • City of Tampa, Florida. June 24, 2020: Executive Order 2020-30.
  • Hillsborough County, Florida. March 12: Stay Safe: Face Coverings and Masks.
  • State of Florida Office of the Governor. Sept. 25: 2020: Executive Order 20-244.
  • State of Georgia. Aug. 15, 2020: Executive Order Empowering a Healthy Georgia.
  • City of Atlanta, Georgia. July 8, 2020: Executive Order Number 2020-13 by the Mayor.  
  • City of Savannah, Georgia. June 30, 2020: Mayor Johnson Signs Emergency Order Requiring Face Coverings in City of Savannah.
  • Athens-Clarke County, Georgia. Aug. 21, 2020: Masks On, Athens! Face Cover Requirement. 
  • City of Boise, Idaho. July 2, 2020: Public Health Emergency Order No. 20-10. Face Coverings – Required.  
  • Eastern Idaho Public Health. Aug. 6, 2020 to Oct. 8, 2020: EIPH COVID-19 Regional Response Plan: Current Restrictions. 
  • City of Brookings, South Dakota. Sept. 10, 2020: Ordinance 20-010 (Revised) Extended and Amended to Include Mask Mandates.
  • City of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. 2020: Information and Guidance for Individuals and Families About COVID-19.
  • Metro Public Health Department of Nashville and Davidson County. June 28, 2020: Cloth Face Coverings or Masks Order.
  • Knox County, Tennessee Board of Health. July 2, 2020: Knox County Board of Health Regulation No. 2020-1.
  • Hamilton County, Tennessee. Oct. 8, 2020: Directive No. 3. of the Hamilton County Health Officer. 
  • Shelby County, Tennessee Health Department. Aug. 24, 2020: Formal Issuance of Face Mask Directive No. 2. Regarding Wearing Cloth Face Coverings. 
  • Sullivan County, Tennessee. Sept. 11, 2020: Sullivan County Covid-19 Phase One Executive Order Number Three. 


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