MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – Manatee County leaders voted 4-3 Tuesday in favor of getting rid of the county-wide mask mandate.
The resolution, which has been in effect since late July, has been credited by local health officials for helping slow the spread of COVID-19 and reducing the countywide positivity rate which is at 3.5 percent over the last week.
Soon after the vote to repeal the mask mandate, commissioners voted unanimously for a proclamation saying anyone in Manatee County should continue to wear masks if they’re unable to socially distance indoors.
The decision comes just a few days after Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order suspending any fines and penalties associated with COVID-19. Simply put, the mask mandate was no longer enforceable.
“His emergency orders basically supersedes ours. Yeah, he is the top dog in the pecking order in emergencies. And Florida is set up that way for a reason, because of many years of experience with hurricanes,” said Assistant County Attorney William Claugue. “My view is when you’re stating to the public, this is mandatory and you must do this, but you have no enforcement provision, you’re really not speaking as clearly as you should when you’re exercising police powers. So the cleanest and most legally defensible way to handle this now is to repeal the resolution,” he continued.
“The majority of people wear a mask and not because of the mandate, but because they know it is the right thing to do,” said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. “I don’t think the mandate really made a big difference because people were already starting to wearing the masks and were starting to come to grips with it. It is really up to each individual business to decide whether or not they want to enforce the wearing of masks or not,” she continued during Tuesday’s meeting.
Though numbers have been trending downward, some fear without a mandate in place, Manatee County will see another spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Ciera and Ada Morales lost their father to COVID-19 in late July. Ramon Morales was a long-time custodian at Manatee High School. He leaves behind 22 grandchildren.
“We have our days.. good days and bad days,” said Ciera Morales.
The family decided to opt for full time e-learning to protect their kids from contracting the virus and bringing it home.
“It is best for me having lost somebody to COVID, for my kids to stay home. They want to do hybid or go to school because their friends, but I feel like it is safer for me to keep them home for the time being. I know the numbers are going down, but still, you can’t chance it,” said Ciera Morales.
The family has made wearing face masks a part of their everyday lives outside the safety of their homes. That’s why they were surprised to learn the county’s mask mandate was no longer in place.
“One day it is mandated we wear the masks and then the next day boom, we don’t have to wear masks. They’ve gotta think the numbers didn’t go down overnight, but they did shoot up overnight,” said Ada Morales.
With capacity restrictions at bars and restaurants lifted by Governor DeSantis, Ciera Morales feels the timing doesn’t make any sense.
“You are opening up the bars at 100% capacity, so it’s like, if a place is filled with people, how can you social distance and you don’t have a mask? That sounds crazy. To me, it is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Ciera Morales.
Dr. Sylvie Tanev is the president of the Manatee County Medical Society. He tells 8 On Your Side, though numbers statewide and locally have decreased, we’re still not in the clear.
“We are hopeful that the situation will improve, but as doctors, we can say that at this point, we are still not out of danger. Even though the cases have somewhat decreased the last two or three weeks, we are still in a dangerous situation to spike again. As for our opinion, we think that if you cannot enforce social distancing, it is still safe to wear masks especially in crowded places,” said Dr. Tanev.
He says people cannot let their guards down just yet.
“I think everybody has to be conscientious to protect themselves and the public. It cannot be enforced by law, but should be enforced by common sense,” said the doctor.