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Sarasota Friday, Jun. 26, 2020 1 month ago

UPDATE: City set to discuss proposed mask requirements Monday

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As COVID-19 cases rise locally, the commission will consider an ordinance mandating face coverings in indoor and outdoor settings.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

UPDATE: The agenda for Monday’s City Commission meeting, including the text of the proposed mask ordinance, is now online.

The ordinance requires the use of face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained in any indoor location other than a residence and any public outdoor location. The regulations include a series of exceptions, including for children under 2, people with health conditions and people who are eating or drinking.

The penalty for noncompliance is a civil infraction with a fine up to $500.

Because the regulations are in the form of an emergency ordinance, it must receive support from a supermajority of four commissioners to pass.

If adopted Monday, the new regulations are scheduled to take effect at 12:01 a.m. July 1.

Previously: The city of Sarasota could soon join the list of Florida jurisdictions requiring the use of masks in shared indoor spaces to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The city website lists a special City Commission meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Monday, June 29. Although an agenda for that meeting is not yet posted, Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said she asked for the meeting to be held to discuss the possibility of adopting a mask mandate.

Plans for the meeting came together after the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise, both locally and throughout Florida. On Tuesday, Sarasota County passed 1,000 positive coronavirus tests. Over the past week, Sarasota averaged 34.6 new cases daily and a testing positivity rate of 6.7%, an increase from 12.7 daily cases and a 1.7% positive rate the week before.

Ahearn-Koch said she supported a mask mandate based on input from health professionals. The state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended the use of cloth face coverings when social distancing is not possible or difficult to maintain. In addition to limiting the spread of the virus, Ahearn-Koch said wearing masks could provide economic benefits, too.

“The idea for this is to protect the community and make the community safer,” Ahearn-Koch said. “The idea is to invigorate business, because people are feeling nervous about going into businesses.”

Ahearn-Koch said she’s shared similar orders passed in the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg to assist the city attorney’s office in drafting local regulations. Tampa's executive order requires face coverings in any indoor setting other than homes when social distancing from other members of the public cannot be maintained.

The order includes exceptions, including for children under 2 and individuals who would be negatively affected by the use of a mask because of a health condition. Masks are also not required when people are eating and drinking. Ahearn-Koch said she believed the city could craft mask requirements that could enhance public welfare without creating an undue burden for the public.

“We take an oath to protect the health, the safety and the welfare of our citizens,“ Ahearn-Koch said. “This speaks to all three of these.”

Ahearn-Koch said the city attorney’s office would handle details regarding enforcement and other specifics. City Attorney Robert Fournier was not immediately available for comment.

In an update to county commissioners this week, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said he is not recommending the implementation of mandatory mask regulations.

“While it may be legal if written properly, it is not enforceable in a practical way,” Lewis wrote. “... Personal judgment still seems to be the most effective tool in our fight to slow the spread of the virus and protect our hospitals.”

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