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East County Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020 1 year ago

Coalition formed to help keep schools open in Manatee County

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County agencies, businesses and schools partner to remind the public about CDC guidelines.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

As local schools open Aug. 17, the School District of Manatee County has combined with Manatee County government, businesses, agencies and nonprofits to create a coalition to help keep them open.

“The purpose of the Mask Up Manatee Coalition is to speak with one clear voice that is specific to Manatee County,” said Cynthia Saunders, superintendent of the School District of Manatee County. “We believe that we can do more if we are fighting this battle together.”

The idea for the coalition started when Dr. Jennifer Bencie, chief health officer for the Manatee County Department of Health, addressed the School Board of Manatee County during a July 9 workshop about reopening schools. She said the district could help in presenting a united message about wearing masks throughout the county to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Saunders then spoke with Bencie and Cheri Coryea, the county administrator, about partnering with agencies, businesses and nonprofits to start the coalition.

Residents of the county will begin to see posters of manatees wearing masks in business windows, and they will also see children wearing masks that are adorned with photos of manatees wearing masks. The photos will be prominent on social media and government and school websites

All the posters, special masks and online messages will be asking residents to practice Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

It is the start of the coalition’s focus on educating and encouraging the county’s more than 411,000 residents on preventative COVID-19 measures including wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and practicing good hand-washing techniques.

“The majority of the parents of Manatee County students have made it clear they want our schools to be able to open, and in order for us to maintain our open schools, it will take the entire community to come together,” said Scott Hopes, a member of the school board. “We have guidelines for our students and our staff and classroom educators in our schools. When you leave our school buildings, you cannot leave behind your compliance with the CDC’s guidelines. If we work together through the Mask Up Manatee Coalition, we will be able to keep our schools open throughout the school year.”

Organizations in Lakewood Ranch, including the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and Lakewood Ranch Community Activities, have joined the coalition.

Dom DiMaio, president and CEO of Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, said the alliance wants to be a part of the consistent message across the county.

“When you look at the initiative, I think one of the things we believe is education matters,” DiMaio said.

On top of helping the schools remain open, the initiative could help businesses. Most of the alliance’s members are small businesses with 25 or fewer employees, DiMaio said.

“I think that mask piece gives some comfort that we’re doing the right thing as a business community,” DiMaio said. 

The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance is starting to consider how it will hold its in-person meetings and events, and the organization has decided to require people to wear masks at those events.

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