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Sarasota City Leaders Approve Mandatory Mask Ordinance

Downtown high rise with view of street and bay.
Sarasota City Government
The order requires people to wear face coverings in both indoor and outdoor public spaces where social distancing isn't possible.

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.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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