During special meeting, City Commissioner Brody again voices objections to mandate for masks outdoors
Editor’s note: The Sarasota News Leader is providing general reporting on the novel coronavirus to readers for free as a public service.
With Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody again casting the only “No” vote, the board this week extended its face-covering ordinance through Oct. 28.
The measure, which went into effect on July 1, was due to expire on Aug. 29.
Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch advised her colleagues during their special meeting on Aug. 19 that a supermajority vote would be necessary for approval of the extension.
“It’s obvious this is not going to go away anytime soon,” Commissioner Liz Alpert said of the novel coronavirus. “By and large, the businesses have wanted this [city law] so they don’t have to keep shutting down due to people being exposed to the virus,” Alpert pointed out.
“I think [the ordinance] is going to be more critical now than ever to do what we can to keep [schoolchildren] safe,” Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland added, noting that the Sarasota County School District plans to open classes, including some in-person instruction, in about two weeks. The district is requiring face mask usage, she noted.
The wearing of face coverings also is critical, Freeland Eddie continued, with flu season ahead, “to try to not have two terrible things fighting each other, the flu virus and the coronavirus.”
Ahearn-Koch talked of her conversations with medical professionals in the community, including physicians associated with Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) who have encouraged the board members to keep the ordinance in place.
Earlier, City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs read a letter to the commission from Dr. Manuel Gordillo, the hospital’s epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Joseph Seaman, past chief of staff who is a critical care pulmonologist.
“The SMH leadership team recommends the continued usage of face masks to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” the letter said. “Face masks and good hand hygiene are the most productive measure available at this time to control this disease,” they continued.
Commissioner Willie Shaw also voiced support for extending the ordinance.
During his Aug. 19 comments, Brody reprised objections he has raised in the past. “I have a serious enforcement problem with [the mandate for the wearing of face coverings outdoors],” he said. “I cannot support an ordinance that we do not enforce or cannot enforce, and I was not in favor of giving the police or Code Enforcement [staff] or whoever — if we even have anybody identified as enforcing this thing — the power to stop and detain someone that [officers] perceived to be violating the mask ordinance [outside]. I think that is overreach …”
At least, to his knowledge, Brody added, he was not aware of any citations having been written for a lack of masks when people are outside.
As of Aug. 19, according to the Florida Department of Health, Sarasota County had had a total of 6,850 COVID-19 cases, with hospitalizations numbering 409 since the first case was identified in the community on March 1.
The death toll stood at 180 in the county on Aug. 19, the Florida Department of Health noted in its daily update.
The median age of those infected in the county as of that date was 48, the report said.
Over the past two weeks, the date with the highest number of new cases in Sarasota County was Aug. 13, the report noted. That figure was 122.
On Aug. 19, the report said, 43 more infections were counted.
The same day, the number of deaths in Florida totaled 10,049, the report showed.