MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Manatee County’s top leaders came together Wednesday morning to announce a new public education campaign aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Mask Up Manatee! Coalition is made up of the community’s top school, government, health, business, and non-profit leaders.
The goal of the coalition is to spread public health and COVID-19 related information to a broad network in Manatee County.
“The purpose of the coalition is to ask the community to to assist us in making sure that everyone is doing their part to keep our infection rates low in the county so that the children can be safe and go back to school,” said Manatee DOH Director Dr. Jennifer Bencie.
There is a large focus on children, teens, and their families as kids get ready to go back to school on August 17.
Manatee County Schools Superintendent Cynthia Saunders says leaders put their heads together last month as COVID-19 cases countywide showed no signs of slowing down.
“We knew that if we didn’t do something collectively, we were going to have a very difficult time sustaining our school opening. We knew it was a steep hill to climb but collectively, we knew we needed to put an initiative in place,” said Saunders. “We believe we can do more if we are fighting this battle together,” said the superintendent.
For the first time in nearly five months, children will be heading back into their classrooms. School Board Member Dr. Scott Hopes says this partnership is necessary because the majority of parents in Manatee County have made it clear that they want schools open.
“If we work together, we will be able to keep our schools open throughout the school year, but it’ll take the community coming together with us,” said Dr. Hopes.
The campaign aims at promoting the preventative measures we’re all familiar with — washing hands, wearing face masks, and social distancing. School leaders admit, recommendations to do so haven’t proven effective in the past.
“We are saying the same thing; we are just presenting it in a much different package so hopefully that will take hold and we are not going to have to close intermittently or sections of school or the entire district,” said Saunders. “I know that does not benefit anyone; we already witnessed that by the fourth quarter of the last school year,” she continued.
“Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay away from people you don’t live with…you are right, the message wasn’t getting out,” said Dr. Hopes. “The hardest thing in public health is to figure out what the leverage point is. We are hopeful, I believe, as a board that the community’s desire to open our schools and keep our schools open for the entire school year hopefully is enough leverage that the Mask Up Manatee Coalition and our messaging will get the community united for the benefit of our children and follow the guidelines Dr. Bencie’s team and the CDC have laid out for people,” he continued.
The group intends to share COVID-prevention tips from the Department of Health in the weeks before school begins. In the fall, the group will continue its effort to spread information on resilience to the pandemic and recovery from its economic impacts. The Coalition showed a Mask Up Manatee video as the press conference drew to an end.
“With the wide array of medical agencies, local non-profits, the business community and local government partners, Mask Up Manatee! is the first group of its in Florida,” said County Administrator Cheri Coryea. “We are united in our resolve to combat the spread of COVID-19 and to the recovery effort that is already underway. We are committed to providing staff and agency resources to ensure that the Mask Up Manatee! Coalition has what it needs to share information like no other campaign before it.”
Local agencies wanting to take part in the new Mask Up Manatee! Coalition are invited to email MaskUpManatee@gmail.com.
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