The city has authorized the Sarasota Police Department to break up gatherings and issue citations to those who do not comply. The city's mayor is advocating for a statewide shelter-in-place order.
As part of an ongoing response to COVID-19, the city of Sarasota is officially prohibiting social gatherings with 10 or more people and empowering the Sarasota Police Department to issue citations to those who do not voluntarily comply with the order.
In an emergency order today, City Manager Tom Barwin strongly encouraged all members of the public to remain in their homes except for essential activities. The order lists seeking medical treatment, buying groceries, exercising and going to work as examples of essential activities.
The order says noncompliance with the prohibition on social gatherings will be treated as a second-degree misdemeanor. The restriction does not apply to people at offices, child care facilities, multifamily and temporary housing buildings, places of worship, grocery stores, pharmacies, the airport or stores where people buy supplies or services related to their work.
“We want and expect the community to voluntarily comply during this public health challenge, and for the most part we are seeing that,” Barwin said in a release. “This new directive will give our public safety officers an additional tool to keep our community safe and reduce the risk of spreading this highly contagious coronavirus. All should have gotten the message by now, and it’s simply time to be good neighbors and responsible citizens for the community’s good.”
The order came after some elected officials advocated for various measures to enforce social distancing guidelines to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus disease. On Saturday, police Chief Bernadette DiPino contacted Barwin about reports of a block party with “several hundred” people in attendance on 23rd Street. On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Pat Robinson sent along four additional reports from gatherings in north Sarasota over the weekend.
In response to those reports, Commissioner Hagen Brody said the activity was unacceptable and told Barwin the city needed to take action. Brody recommended a citywide curfew unless Barwin thought there was less restrictive action that could ensure no further issues arose surrounding group gatherings.
“Our window to act is small, and while I appreciate the 99% of the community that is taking this seriously, we cannot let a handful of people spoil our efforts and our sacrifices,” Brody wrote in an email Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch sent an email to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to issue a shelter-in-place order statewide and close all nonessential businesses in Florida. Ahearn-Koch noted that City Attorney Robert Fournier has said local declarations closing businesses are more likely to generate legal disputes without similar directives at the state or federal level.
“There is no end in sight to the rapid spread of the virus,” Ahearn-Koch said in the email. “You must act quickly and boldly, so cities can follow.”
The city has extended its local public health emergency declaration through April 3. The full text of the declaration is available on the city’s website.