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Sarasota City Leaders Approve Mandatory Mask Ordinance

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Sarasota City Government
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Citing concerns over the spread of coronavirus, the city of Sarasota is joining a growing list of Florida cities that require the wearing of face masks in public spaces.

The Sarasota City Commission approved the measure at a special meeting on Monday.

City leaders say they received hundreds of phone calls and emails about the proposed mask mandate. Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin told commissioners a majority of respondents supported the measure in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But most people who signed up to speak at the meeting were against the wearing of face coverings. Rosalyn Coons was one of them.

"We are on a slippery slope relinquishing freedoms that we have in this nation and allowing this tyrannical ordinance,” she said.

Benjamin Casey, a homeless student at New College of Florida, urged commissioners to vote in favor of the mask ordinance.

"If I contract COVID, I'll not only lose my job and source of income for several weeks to be free of it, but I also have the chance of losing housing at my school," he said.

Sarasota city commissioners approved the ordinance by a 4-1 vote.

READ MORE: Here's Where You Must Wear A Face Mask In Tampa Bay

Commissioner Hagen Brody said while he was in favor of mandating masks indoors, he opposed the measure because it includes outdoor spaces. 

"Outdoors is totally unenforceable,” he said. “I think it just has a host of problems we aren't even capable of predicting."

Barwin acknowledged that most people are aware of social distancing practices and other CDC-recommended guidelines to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but said that “such recommendations are not being practiced voluntarily on a community-wide basis” and that the commission agrees that making face masks mandatory is necessary for the health and safety of the community.

The measure goes into effect at midnight Wednesday and would be in effect for 60 days.

Officials said enforcement efforts will focus on compliance and education. Violations of the mask requirement could result in a civil, non-criminal infraction with penalties up to a $500 fine. 

Exceptions include:

  • Children under the age of 18
  • Schools, daycares and non-City government agencies
  • People for whom a face covering would cause impairment due to an existing health condition
  • Those working in a business or profession who do not interact with others, who maintain physical or social distancing from others or where a face covering would prevent them from performing their duties
  • Those who are outdoors or exercising while maintaining physical distancing
  • Those who are eating or drinking

Last week, Sarasota County's administrator said the county would not pursue a face mask ordinance.

Commissioners in nearby Manatee County also voted down a mask mandate last week. However, the cities of Holmes Beach and Anna Maria Island quickly adopted their own emergency orders requiring people to wear masks in public.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.