Kenneth Tague has lived in the same Fort Lauderdale apartment building for 16 years. And for much of the past decade, he and his husband have been caring for Tague’s mother, who moved into the building in 2011.
Since the novel coronavirus began spreading across Florida back in March, Tague says, he has worried about his mom, who at 77 is at high risk for becoming severely ill if exposed. So a few weeks ago, when their property was being prepared to be fumigated for termites, Tague emailed the association at Georgian Court Apartments North and taped a note to the front doors at their apartments asking anyone entering to wear a mask.
Nevertheless, home-security footage from Tague’s apartment shows that during the tenting on June 15, at least three workers entered the unit without any personal protective equipment and handled food and other items while preparing the apartment for fumigation. Tague, who has since filed complaints with multiple city and county officials, says he worries that his already vulnerable mother is now at even greater risk and that the workers could have spread the virus to other tenants by breathing on and touching their belongings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the novel coronavirus can survive on surfaces for hours or days, and it is possible — although not common — for the virus to spread when people touch an infected surface and then touch their mouths. In the two weeks since the fumigation, neither Tague nor his family members have shown any symptoms of illness, but they are nonetheless self-quarantining for 21 days.
Now, Tague wants the Fort Lauderdale city attorney’s office to investigate the apartment association and charge the association manager with a misdemeanor for violating a countywide emergency order that requires essential workers to wear face coverings.
“We all know cases are surging in Florida, and my mother is already vulnerable. By not wearing a mask in her home, that’s worse than a lot of other crimes that are prosecuted as misdemeanors,” Tague says.
Tague’s pleas for an investigation come at a time when many Americans are arguing about the necessity for and constitutionality of mandatory mask policies. Because the CDC recommends that people wear masks or other facial coverings to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19, several large South Florida cities now require masks to be worn in public, a move some residents have protested.
In Broward County, an emergency order requires workers to wear facial coverings when interacting with the public, but the order doesn’t mention property managers or service technicians working alone inside a home. According to Florida statutes, the violation of an emergency order is considered a second-degree misdemeanor.
Reached by New Times, Forest “Bud” Middaugh, the community association manager for Georgian Court Apartments North, says he and his employees were going from apartment to apartment preparing the units for fumigation. He admits they did not wear masks or gloves when doing so.
When they reached Tague’s apartment, Middaugh says, he told his employees to put on PPE before entering, but he was soon called away to another part of the building. The employees then entered the home without PPE and began to seal food and belongings that weren’t properly prepared by Tague and his husband.
“By the time I got back, they were at the end of the hall, and I got a text from Ken saying he had people in his apartment without masks or gloves,” Middaugh says.
Middaugh says he understands that he and his staff made a mistake, adding that they began wearing masks and gloves at every building after Tague’s.
“I take full responsibility for this. I’m guilty,” Middaugh says.
After the incident, Tague sent his concerns about the maskless workers to several city and county officials, including Fort Lauderdale City Attorney Alain Boileau. The city attorney’s office prosecutes state misdemeanors and violations of the city and county ordinance.
In emails Tague shared with New Times, Boileau informed Tague that code enforcement was citing the apartment association and the fumigation company for a code violation, but he would not prosecute them for the incident.
“You are welcome to contact the Fort Lauderdale Police Department to report the June 15 incident and provide them your video evidence, however, I will not be filing or prosecuting any criminal charges regarding this matter at this time,” Boileau wrote in the email.
Tague was not pleased with the response.
“They seem to think a misdemeanor should be ignored even if it could lead to death,” he says.
Boileau declined to comment when contacted by New Times.
Tague also sent his complaints to the building association, Broward County Vice Mayor Steve Geller, and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis. He says he has received no response in the past several weeks from any of their offices.
Tague says he wants local leaders to enforce the county mask order and to acknowledge the importance of doing so.
“If you’re gonna have someone going into old people’s homes, you need to make sure they’re wearing masks and gloves,” says Tague. “It’s a real big risk to take by not doing so and, to me, there’s gotta be some repercussions.”