Longboat Key updated its COVID-19 restrictions this week within town facilities, reestablishing indoor mask rules for town offices and other government-run buildings.
“It is unfortunate that COVID numbers have been increasing in Florida and in the two-county area,” Town Manager Tom Harmer wrote in an email to commissioners. “We are experiencing high rates of COVID transmission throughout the area.”
The reestablishment of masks comes after Longboat Key began allowing the public to enter Town Hall without one on May 17.
As of Aug. 21, Florida Department of Health data shows the town’s 34228 ZIP code has had 24 new positive COVID-19 cases this month on the island.
“We don’t want to overreact, but we also need to do everything we can to keep everyone as safe as possible,” Harmer said.
Last month, the state provided Longboat Key data that showed the town’s residents had a vaccination rate near 100%.
Although vaccines aren't 100% effective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found full vaccination for preventing hospitalization was 91% for Pfizer-BioNTech, 96% for Moderna, and 85% for Janssen COVID-19 vaccines. Plus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.
Longboat Key leaders ask anyone who is unvaccinated to wear a mask at all times while indoors at a town facility. Harmer said the town “has proper masks available” for people needing one.
“I don’t want employees being unintentionally exposed and then all of a sudden, they either get sick or they have to quarantine, and then we have to shut down a portion of our services or the town government because they’re not able to come to work for some period of time,” Harmer said.
Anyone attending a public meeting in person will need a mask to enter, and will need to get their temperatures taken at Town Hall. Anyone with a fever will be asked to leave. Once seated and social distancing is established, Harmer’s email states those in attendance who are vaccinated can remove their mask.
However, state law prevents the town from requiring documented proof of COVID-19 vaccination. It means Longboat Key leaders must rely on the public’s goodwill to abide by the rules in place.
Limited seating will be available in the Town Commission chambers with people spaced 6 feet apart.
Town staff will also put up some barriers back in place inside Town Hall and signs on doorways.
The town is also asking for the public to use phones, drop boxes or to schedule meetings in advance if an in-person meeting is required.
Longboat Key’s Public Tennis Center will require masks inside the pro shop and restrooms. Indoor use of Bayfront Park is also limiting classes to 12 participants or less.
“We have been somewhat fortunate on the island, but our numbers have also noticeably increased over the past 4-6 weeks,” Harmer wrote. “We also know that hospitalizations are way up and the unvaccinated make up the overwhelming majority of COVID patients.”
Sarasota Memorial Hospital posted a graphic Monday on its social media pages about vaccinated and unvaccinated patients. The hospital had a record number of 230 patients with COVID-19, of which 205 were unvaccinated.
Among the 51 COVID patients in SMH’s Intensive Care Unit, 48 were unvaccinated. Of the 34 patients on ventilators, 33 were unvaccinated.
“We will be closely monitoring COVID cases both on and off the island and will make any further adjustments (one way or another) moving forward,” Harmer wrote. “We will reevaluate these protocols at least every two weeks.”
The Longboat Key Town Commission is set to meet next on Sept. 13.