SMH Promote Mask Use as Sarasota Considers Ordinance

Todays News

Photo by Wes Roberts

When new cases of coronavirus infections appeared on the decline, Sarasota Memorial Hospital celebrated multiple days with no COVID-19 patients in a dedicated intensive care unit. Now, the institution has seen a rapid escalation as numbers surge across the state of Florida.

“We had a really good story to tell in May back when we had a dip in our COVID census,” hospital CEO David Verinder said in a video message. “We opened our elective cases and opened up the hospital in a limited way to visitors. We saw our cases get all the way down to eight COVID patients in the hospital.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a rebound in our cases, and today our cases have gone back up. We’re around 34 patients in the hospital today with 10 people being in the ICU. What’s scary is they have gone up so quickly so fast.”

Sarasota County as of Sunday morning reported 1,401 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic reached Florida in March; 96 have died in the county.

Verinder is among medical leaders now stressing the need for individuals to wear masks when they venture into public spaces.

It’s something government officials are pondering as well. The Sarasota City Commission holds a special meeting today at 1:30pm, called by Mayor Jennifer Ahearn-Koch so the city can consider an ordinance requiring face coverings at indoor public spaces and for the outdoors on public property when social distancing cannot be observed. The ordinance is modeled off one in Tampa, though commissioners expect to discuss whether to exempt children under the age of 2 and whether schools in city limits should be allowed to set their own masking requirements.

If approved, the ordinance goes into effect on July 1.

City Attorney Robert Fournier drafted the ordinance and said the city is within its power to put a mask requirement in place. “However, it is my opinion that just because the City has such authority doesn't necessarily mean that it should be exercised,” he writes to commissioners. “Even though the City could adopt a regulation requiring people to wear face coverings, I believe that personal conviction is just one of several other factors to be considered when deciding whether to take this step.”

Fournier wrote that while he now wears a mask in public, he’s concerned about the enforceability of such a measure on the public.

Manatee County Commissioner last week voted against a masking ordinance, and the county has 2,737 cases of COVID-19 and reported 130 deaths as of Sunday. Sarasota County Commissioners declined to take up the issue last week. Holmes Beach is the only jurisdiction in the region with a face covering mandate in place.

Whether the requirement goes into place or not, medical professionals stress the public should begin wearing face coverings to help slow the spread of the virus.

The community should be concerned. I don’t think it should be panicked,” Verinder said. “We all need to take responsible steps so we don’t have a bigger problem we can’t handle.”

Photo by Wes Roberts

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