The Manatee County commission voted 4-3 on Monday to require county residents to wear face masks to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The resolution, which took effect immediately, covers all of unincorporated Manatee County; businesses are also required to post signs encouraging the public to wear face coverings. Exceptions are in place for children under age 6, those "who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition or individuals with a documented or demonstrable medical problem," restaurant patrons and instances in which social distancing is already taking place. Local law enforcement will have the responsibility of making sure the public adheres to the resolution; violators will receive a warning first, followed by a non-criminal citation if they do not comply.
"Masks are vital," Dr. Jennifer Bencie, director of the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County, said during the commission meeting. "The evidence is clear that masks help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the more people that wear masks, the better. There are three W’s to ward off COVID-19: wearing a mask, washing your hands and watching your distance. Of the three, the most important is wearing a mask.”
Bencie added that the local medical community estimates as much as 48 percent of Manatee County residents may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and spreading the coronavirus.
The resolution also comes after 100 practicing members of the Manatee County Medical Society sent a letter to the county urging it to adopt a mask mandate, especially as Manatee continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases and all of its three hospitals have asked for aid from the state in the form of additional nursing staff and ventilators. As of Tuesday, there were 9,230 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, 106 in Sarasota County and 108 in Manatee County. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 8,090 Manatee County residents have tested positive for COVID-19.
Some Manatee County cities and towns—including the city of Bradenton, Holmes Beach, Anna Maria and Longboat Key—have already issued their own ordinances; the new resolution does not supersede them. If citizens need a mask, a list of locations where the public can pick up one will soon be posted to the county website.