The Longboat Key Town Commission voted Monday to renew its mandatory mask policy for the next 90 days.
During Monday’s virtual meeting, commissioners voted 6-0 in favor of extending the policy to run through Nov. 30, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
“I think we’ve been trying to act as responsibly as we possibly can to protect the residents and the visitors to our island,” Mayor Ken Schneier said.
Commissioner George Spoll did not vote because it appeared his connection dropped off Monday afternoon’s emergency meeting, which was held using Zoom.
“Commissioner Spoll was on the meeting and we seemed to have lost him and probably from technical difficulties,” Schneier said.
The policy adds a few more exceptions to rules commissioners passed at the start of July.
“Because this ordinance will run through election season and through the general election, it also specifies that for purposes of voting and purposes of conducting the in-person election, that purview falls within the constitutional officers — the supervisors of elections — to regulate during that timeframe,” Town Attorney Maggie Mooney said. “It is a very narrow exception but it recognizes the powers of our constitutional supervisors of elections.”
Mooney said both Manatee and Sarasota counties supervisors of elections are encouraging voters to wear masks, but cannot mandate it. Both counties say they plan to make masks available for anyone who needs them.
“When residents come to Town Hall [to vote on Nov. 3], they are still going to see signage that recommends the wearing of masks,” Mooney said. “Those supervisors of elections have indicated that they are recommending it, that they are mandating that their employees, volunteers and agents — anybody acting on their behalf — wears it, but the reality is, is they can’t deny the right to in-person vote to anybody who absolutely refuses to wear a mask.”
Commissioner Sherry Dominick asked Moody why the town wouldn't renew its mask policy through the end of the year.
Mooney said she and Town Manager Tom Harmer have had discussions about commissioners’ ability to meet several times starting in September, well before the mask policy expires. She said commissioners will have plenty of chances to revisit whether current conditions require masks.
Harmer said he had a conversation with Sarasota County Department of Health administrator Chuck Henry about the COVID-19 data from the state and county health departments. Harmer said the health departments are monitoring what will happen with Manatee County Schools resuming classes on Aug. 17 and Sarasota County Schools starting classes on Monday.
“[Henry] stated some of the same things you see in the slides as the numbers are continuing to trend down,” Harmer said. “[Henry] mentioned he thinks that there is a substantial change coming this week.”
Data changes deriving from school reopenings might take a month or more to relect, Harmer said. Specifically citing his conversation with Henry, Harmer said people aged 65 and older make up 65% over the COVID-19 hospitalizations and 90% of the COVID-19 deaths.
About 69% of the 6,700 full-time residents in Longboat Key are older than 65 years old.
“Those statistics we just heard certainly indicate why we need to — given our population and the age of the people on Longboat Key — that we need to be especially conservative in our approach here and our continuing the [policy],” District Five Commissioner Ed Zunz said.
Data from the Florida Department of Health shows Longboat Key's 34228 ZIP code has 27 COVID-19 cases in Manatee County and fewer than five in Sarasota County. Those figures have remained the same for weeks.
No one from the public spoke during Monday’s virtual meeting, but two people submitted comments to be read into the record in support of the mandatory mask policy.
“As a condo president, I am thankful the ordinance includes the requirement for face covering inside condo property common areas,” Longboat Key resident Greg Van Howe wrote. “A town-wide mandate is much easier to communicate and enforce as compared to rules set at the condo level.”
“We have seven members of our family as full time residents on LBK. We are ages 10 to 98 and the mask policy helps keep all of us safe,” Jorie Riesen wrote. “It is not a political debate. It is science. Masks assist in the decrease of the spread of COVID-19 (amongst other things!) and makes it so that our family can participate in life on this island.”
Town commissioners have received several emails from citizens in opposition to extending the mask policy, which does have exceptions.
Last week, Sarasota city commissioners voted to extend their mandatory mask policy. The city of Sarasota’s policy will run through Oct. 28. Manatee County also has a mask requirement.