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Longboat Key Friday, Jul. 10, 2020 9 months ago

Longboat mask policy reveals enforcement challenges

The Longboat Key Police Department has received calls about violations to the town's mandatory mask policy.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

It has been one week since the town of Longboat Key implemented its mandatory mask policy.

The new mask policy has specific exceptions, which has led to a few instances of confusion when it comes to enforcement.

Fire Chief Paul Dezzi — who is coordinating the town’s response to the mandatory mask policy — said the town has received a few minor calls about Publix and Ace Hardware customers not wearing masks.

The Publix at the Bay Isles Shopping Center is offering customers masks if they don’t have one. Any Publix customer without a mask is asked to visit the store’s customer service department to pick one up.

The town is also offering free masks outside Station 91 at 5490 Gulf of Mexico Drive, the Paradise Center at 546 Bay Isles Road or the Chamber of Commerce at 5390 Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Publix has taken several precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, Publix spokesperson Maria Brous confirmed the Longboat Key store is among 12 Publix stores in Manatee and Sarasota counties with positive cases of COVID-19 within the past 14 days.

The town’s new mask policy also prompted two incidents on Independence Day at Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub.

One man claims he was denied bathroom service because he was not wearing a mask. In an email to town commissioners, the man said he has a medical condition that exempts him from the ordinance. The man claimed the restaurant’s general manager refused his entry, asked him to leave the restaurant and called the police.

The man did not return calls for comment. The man also claimed he filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Justice Department for an ADA violation.

“There’s two sides of every story,” Dezzi said.

Dezzi said he spoke with both the man and the Mar Vista’s general manager. Dezzi said the manager told him that the man was there with his wife and kids, who also were not wearing masks.

“When I first talked to the complainant, he was very nice,” Dezzi said. “He was very cordial, very nice [and] understood what we were trying to do.”

In another July 4 incident at the restaurant, a police report shows a man became “belligerent and argumentative” when asked to wear a mask inside the dining room. The report states the restaurant’s general manger told the man he could sit outside if he did not want to wear a mask. Instead, the man decided to leave. 

“There are going to be people that can’t wear it,” Dezzi said. “It’s in the ordinance that if you have a medical condition, that they may not be able to wear it. You have to be sensitive to that, but at the same time, we strongly suggest that people wear them while they’re waiting in line and those that can wear them.”

The town’s emergency ordinance took effect on July 3. It is scheduled to remain in effect for 60 days, which is until Sept. 1.

“I expected a lot more pushback, but we haven’t had that at all,” Dezzi said. “We’ve had everybody in compliance.”

While police officers or the town’s code enforcement officer can issue citations, they are not criminal in nature. A first offense is punishable up to $100, second offense $250 and third or subsequent offenses $500.

“Other than we want you to wear it as best you can, but there’s nothing that we’re going to do to…we can’t ask the person ‘what kind of medical conditions do you have?’” Dezzi said.

People can take off their masks to eat or drink.

Dezzi said the town’s regulations and social-distancing guidelines —many of which are from the governor’s executive orders, Florida Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — are “common sense.”

Anyone wanting to report a violation can call the town’s non-emergency number at (941) 316-1201.

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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