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Longboat Key Monday, Jun. 29, 2020 5 months ago

Longboat Key leaders encourage mask usage

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As of Monday, the town is not mandating mask usage to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Longboat Key town leaders are highly encouraging people to wear masks inside businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

However, the town does not have a mask requirement as of Monday afternoon.

“It’s a personal thing to us as far as wearing a mask or not wearing a mask, but we do encourage you to wear a mask,” Fire Chief Paul Dezzi said on Thursday during his weekly conference call. “We are in constant communication with the local health department.

“Again, they’re encouraging people to wear the mask, but they’re not mandating it and that’s our stance currently right now here on Longboat. ”

The Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department set up a self-service basket outside Station 91 at 5490 Gulf of Mexico Drive for people to pick up a mask. The Paradise Center is also helping the town distribute free masks at 546 Bay Isles Road. There are also free masks at the Chamber of Commerce at 5390 Gulf of Mexico Drive.

To encourage people to wear masks, the town staff has also put up signage on both ends of the island and the entry of the Bay Isles Parkway near Town Hall.

Dezzi acknowledged some people have medical conditions or special exceptions that prevent them from wearing a mask.

“Respect the people who are wearing them, and the people who are not, hopefully, we can educate them to wear the mask,” Dezzi said. “Again, I don’t want anybody to put their guard down. It’s not a time for us to do that.”

As Florida has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, several municipalities have considered whether to mandate mask usage inside places where social distancing cannot be maintained. It includes the city of Sarasota, which will meet on Monday afternoon to discuss the issue.

On Sunday, Holmes Beach began enforcing its mask mandate. Businesses must require masks for employees and customers with certain exceptions.

The increase in positive COVID-19 cases in Manatee and Sarasota counties prompted Longboat Key At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop to email Town Manager Tom Harmer.

“Based on these extremely alarming numbers I think we must be prepared at [Tuesday’s] meeting to do what Holmes Beach has done and institute mandatory masks inside businesses on Longboat Key,” Bishop wrote. “We should be prepared to have emergency date to institute before July 4. This is no different than seat belts and no smoking laws. Hopefully we will have same result in saving lives.”

Despite the increase in positive COVID-19 cases, Harmer said data from the state health department shows that Manatee and Sarsaota counties have not seen an increase in the mortality rate.

“The deaths continue to remain relatively flat (1 new in Manatee County again today) and the age of new positives has been significantly lower, lowering the median age of overall positive test results today to 47 in Sarasota County and 41 in Manatee County,” Harmer wrote on Sunday in an email to commissioners.

Longboat Key leaders will also have to consider the island's older population. About 69% of Longboat Key's 7,000 full-time residents are older than 65. Older people and people with underlying health issues tend to be more at risk to COVID-19.

Harmer is expected to re-evaluate his latest executive order at some point Monday.

The Longboat Key Town Commission is set to meet virtually on Tuesday afternoon.

Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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