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No to mandatory masks

Instead of more dictatorial mandates, Sarasota’s elected officials could engage civic and business leaders and use their bully pulpits to urge citizens to act responsibly.

  • Sarasota
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This is what is coming next from Sarasota City Hall:

After voting to mandate that all people in the city must wear protective masks in all indoor spaces at all times, the Sarasota City Commission added provisions to the ordinance designed to ensure enforcement. The provisions include:

  • Creation of a 10-officer Mask Unit within the Sarasota Police Department with authority to roam the city and drop in randomly on businesses. If the officers see anyone without a mask, the officer will be authorized to issue an immediate citation against the business with a $500 fine against the business and a $250 fine against the person not wearing the mask.

Businesses found to violate the mask mandate a second time can result in a second-degree misdemeanor against the owner with a penalty of up to 60 days in jail.

  • Creation of a new COVID-19 Mask Police Unit Hotline. The commission is urging all businesses’ employees to call the hotline and snitch on fellow employees and customers who are not wearing masks inside the business. Callers will be asked to report the offenders’ names. Callers’ names will remain anonymous.

Once the hotline receives the report, a member of the Sarasota police Mask Unit will contact the offender and issue a written warning. If the offender’s name is reported a second time, he or she will be issued a $250 citation, similar to a parking ticket. The employer also will be issued a $250 citation. A third offense could result in a 60-day jail sentence.

  • Creation of a confidential Mask Unit web portal, to which employees of Sarasota businesses can upload photographs and videos of fellow employees, customers and visitors who are violating the mask ordinance. The photographs and videos can and will be used as evidence against the offenders.

The City Commission also voted that it will be up to the commission’s discretion to decide how long these policies will remain in effect.

Let’s be clear here: All of the above is not true. We’re just projecting that no one should be surprised to see these or other similar dictates coming from local and state governments as the next steps governments will take.

It’s already happening, just not to the extent yet of what we’re predicting above.

Just look up the interstate: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council were the first to impose martial mask law, complete with penalties of up to 60 days in jail and $500 fines. Then came Tampa and Mayor Jane Castor. Then the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group, the Pinellas County Commission and the Pasco County Commission.

All of them have adopted mandatory masks in places of business — with customers and employers liable if caught without them and $100 to $500 fines and possible jail time as adopted penalties.

You can fully expect the Sarasota City Commission to follow suit next Monday.

Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch has a called a special meeting to address the subject. She favors mandatory masks, and based on the past, she has a majority to make it law.

We don’t mean to downplay or seem dismissive of the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases throughout Florida and other states. For sure, it’s a serious matter.

Likewise, many people have been acting irresponsibly — or should we say stupidly? — in recent weeks: marching shoulder-to-shoulder in protests and crowding into bars without sensible social distances or masks.

The spikes in cases should not be surprising. Let’s not forget, you also can attribute a spike in positive cases to more testing.

Worth noting, however, are the data on COVID-19 deaths. Nationally and in Florida, the trend lines are showing declines in deaths (see graphs).

Daily New Cases
Daily New Cases


Daily New Deaths
Daily New Deaths

Also, in a recent video interview of Dr. Kirk Voelker, a lung specialist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Voelker noted that SMH had only six patients in its intensive care unit for the coronavirus, while it was set up to handle more than 50 cases.

The spike in cases also is affecting more younger people, who tend not to have severe cases and often are asymptomatic, as opposed to the early wave, which affected the elderly and people with immune deficiencies and other respiratory health risks.

So once again, there is no clear picture for the American public. Cases are up; deaths are down. What should the average American conclude?

Responsible Americans are smart enough to make their own conclusions: Use common sense. Avoid big crowds. Keep your distance. Don’t sit close to anyone in an enclosed room for long periods. Wash your hands. Wear a mask.

But rather than use their bully pulpits to drive those steps into their citizenry’s heads and behavior and to preach, beg and cajole their constituents into behaving responsibly, our elected officials are quick to let their dictatorial and power impulses take over.

Always invoking what has now become a cliche that is dismissed — “Our top priority is the health and safety of our citizens” — they turn to coercion and punishment to mandate and rule how they think you should live your life. They are convinced it is their moral authority and duty to adopt laws and impose fines for our own good because we’re not able to do that ourselves.

As with everything and everyone, if left to their own devices, there are those who won’t act responsibly and who spoil it for the majority. That’s what is happening here, particularly in the case of a few business owners (restaurateurs and bar owners). Because of them, politicians typically react with blanket orders for everyone, the one size fits all.

Instead of that approach, and this might sound Pollyanna-ish, why do we not see the mayors confront the few business offenders and appeal to those business owners’ common sense, self-interest, patriotism and humanitarianism? “Mr. Bar Owner, do you think it’s fair for us to impose mandatory mask laws on everyone because one guy down the street is ruining it for everyone else?”

We know we’re hoping needlessly that the Sarasota City Commission won’t succumb to their power urges to mandate masks for our good. But we’re going to hope anyway that Sarasota’s city leaders on Monday take it upon themselves to organize their own campaigns with civic and business leaders to urge the citizens of Sarasota to be responsible.

It was refreshing to read the comments of Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis in an update earlier this week to Sarasota County Commissioners. With regard to mandatory mask laws, Lewis wrote to commissioners:

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



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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