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Masks not mandated in Manatee County, commissioners point to difficulty of enforcement

Manatee County

MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) — Municipalities across Tampa Bay have started passing ordinances requiring citizens to wear face masks in public as coronavirus cases in Florida continue climbing.

During a land use meeting on Tuesday, Manatee County commissioners discussed the possibility of such a mandate after receiving hundreds of emails from constituents on both sides.

Manatee County commissioners did not move forward with any sort of mask mandate Tuesday. One of the concerns that came up multiple times was enforcement.

“Our community needs to know that the real issue here is (that) it is unenforceable, and the reality of it is the individual responsibility,” Commissioner Reggie Bellamy said during Tuesday’s meeting.

On Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, the beaches are buzzing and people are out and about. One thing you won’t see much of, at least outdoors, is people wearing face masks.

The owner of Minnie’s Beach Cafe in Holmes Beach is requiring face masks for her employees. She even started an online petition in favor of a county-wide mask ordinance.

Dawn Lee is a manager at the local cafe. She admits not many people on the island are wearing masks while out in public.

“One day last week, I had six people walk in with masks and that excited me. I was like all right a mask — that’s the first one I’ve seen all week,” said Lee.

Lee supports her boss’ position on a mask mandate but says she’s not sure what enforcement would look like.

“I am sure that they can’t really enforce it on everyone, but they could try. People who care should wear one. You are always going to have those who don’t listen,” said Lee.

Up the road at Ginny’s & Jane E’s Cafe and Gift Store, owner Paul Foster says to him, it is the message behind a possible mandate that would matter most.

“I think the nature of the ordinance would be what counts there,” said Foster. “What they are trying to say is hey everybody, wear a mask and let’s not get sick.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she felt a discussion on a possible mask mandate was necessary, but she personally, is not ready to move forward on such an ordinance.

“I felt like we at least needed to discuss it because counties around us are doing it…I am a registered nurse; I care about public safety more than I care about what party you are in,” said Commissioner Whitmore. “This is not a party issue. This is a public health issue.”

County commissioners had an extended conversation over the next steps the county will take to help flatten the curve. No formal vote was taken, but commissioners are expected to take a position endorsing many of the recommendations laid out in the Surgeon General’s Public Health Advisory issued on June 20. 

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