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Manatee County commissioners vote in favor of immediate 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew

Proclamation also gives Sheriff's Office power to enforce group gathering restrictions on private property.

Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells says the curfew passed Friday will help his department slow the spread of COVID-19.
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells says the curfew passed Friday will help his department slow the spread of COVID-19.
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After a contentious three-hour emergency meeting Friday, Manatee County commissioners approved an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, effective immediately, along with giving law enforcement agencies more power to enforce group gathering restrictions on private property.

The vote was 5-2 in favor, with Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Stephen Jonsson voting against the supplemental local emergency resolution, which goes into effect immediately.

Baugh and Jonsson said they both felt Gov. Ron DeSantis' directives gave local law enforcement plenty of guidance to be effective and that a curfew would be hard to enforce and ineffective. Baugh and Jonsson had personal liberties concerns about giving law enforcement more power to enter the citizens' property and homes.

Even those who voted in favor of the resolution had reservations, but said the COVID-19 threat called for drastic measures to help the county's first responders.

"People are not listening to us," said Commissioner Priscilla Trace said. "These are times we do not have a playbook on a killing virus. We are doing the best we can in extremely bad times."

The commissioners were told all the county's first responder heads, medical personnel and mayors were in favor in the proclamation, trying to get people off the road at night to put less stress on the first responders.

Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Sauer said his department is considering "doomsday plans."

He said the 9-1-1 calls were taking a toll on Emergency Services as each call would take more than 2 hours, with an average of 110 calls a day.

Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said the proclamation doesn't change anything for his deputies, but he is hoping the county's residents would be more aware of the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat and would stay off the roads at night.

The meeting was held in commission chambers, but six of the seven commissions were on a conference call.

The curfew prohibits non-essential travel (travel that is not for food, medicine, essential supplies, employment) from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., seven days a week.

The Governor's resolutions only covered group gathering restrictions on public property, so the county strengthened it to include private property as well.

Wells said the Sheriff's Office does not want to use the resolution to arrest people. He said his officers will educate the public when there is a problem, and eventually cite those who refuse to comply.

Sauer said his department has four employees quarantined "at the highest" level and another 21 self-quarantined because they have come into contact with those with COVID-19.

"Paramedics are at a premium," Sauer said. "There are not enough to go through this virus and continue to offer the level of service we do."

Jonsson said the proclamation was unnecessary. "I'm not going to police people's personal lives," he said. "This is meaningless in my opinion. It's never going to be enforced."

"We have 400,000 residents and I don't think we are taking them into consideration," Baugh said. "They already have given up their liberties."

The resolution needs to be continued or cancelled every seven days.


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