Despite scientific evidence and strong recommendations from medical experts—including top leadership at Sarasota Memorial Hospital—that face coverings can help mitigate the spread of Covid-19, the city commission voted to eliminate Sarasota's emergency mask mandate at its meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 17. The emergency order, which was put in place last July, will expire on Feb. 25.
Mayor Hagen Brody, vice-mayor Eric Arroyo and commissioner Kyle Battie all voted against extending the ordinance, with Brody pointing to Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to bar local governments from being able to enforce it. Commissioners Jen Ahearn-Koch and Liz Alpert were both in favor of extending the mandate for an additional 60 days, with Ahearn-Koch reading letters from local doctors urging the commission to do so.
"Many lives hinge on our decisions. With the rapid rise of more virulently transmissible strains of Covid-19, we must protect our workers, our elders, our vulnerable population and our visitors by all means necessary," Dr. Lisa Merritt, head of Sarasota's Multicultural Health Institute, wrote in a statement. "We must err on the side of safety over haste."
“My personal feeling is that everyone should wear a mask,” Brody said of the commission's decision. “The science is pretty clear that they help. But people are choosing whether they're going to wear them or not, regardless of our ordinance."
“This was one of those ordinances that was done as a public spectacle,” Arroyo said. “People don’t respect us as a commission for us trying to regulate every single thing. It might make us feel good about passing it, but it just doesn’t work. I think we need to stop this now.”
“People are just going to do what they're going to do, whether you have the ordinance or not," Battie added.