ANNA MARIA ISLAND — Hard decisions come to all levels of leadership in a pandemic.
Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued a public health advisory June 24 announcing people “should” wear face masks when social distancing can’t be maintained.
Add Gov. Ron DeSantis to the “should” proponents, who said at a June 26 news conference that wearing face masks should be voluntary, and that a statewide requirement to wear masks “probably would backfire.”
That same day, the Florida Department of Health reported a record-high 9,564 new cases of COVID-19. The number broke the state’s previous record of 8,816 cases in a single day, which was set the day before on June 25.
Manatee County commissioners also balked June 24 at the idea of mandating masks to slow the spread of the virus.
Instead of implementing a requirement, the county commission approved a statement, which endorsed Rivkees’ advisory and authorized a public health alert using the reverse 911 system to urge residents to adhere to the advisory.
The statement also voiced support for businesses that require patrons to wear masks inside their establishments, as well as those that uphold social distancing when masks are removed.
Without requirements from the state or county, the cities of Anna Maria and Holmes Beach independently adopted policies June 25 to make wearing face masks mandatory in many public situations.
“If wearing a mask would save a life, why would you not do it?” said Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek.
Holmes Beach commissioners voted unanimously for an emergency ordinance requiring people to wear face masks if they are inside a business, as well as outdoors if they can’t maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from people outside their family or group.
Employees and patrons of local businesses must wear face masks — covering their nose and mouth — inside the business. However, restaurant patrons can remove their masks to eat and drink after being seated.
People exempt from the mandate include children under 6 years old and people with medical conditions preventing them from safely wearing masks.
City code enforcement officers and Holmes Beach Police Department officers began enforcing the policy June 28. Officers will issue a violation order and fine if they do not gain compliance after a warning.
Violators will be fined $250 for a first offense and $500 for any subsequent violations.
Those who receive fines for violating the ordinance can appeal their penalties by appearing before a special magistrate.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said his officers would prioritize educating violators ahead of fining them.
He said fines would be a last resort for those people who refuse to comply with the policy, which is set to automatically expire Tuesday, Aug. 25, unless commissioners decide to extend the policy.
On June 26, HBPD and code officers delivered posters promoting compliance to businesses, as well as copies of the ordinance.
In Anna Maria, city commissioners voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Dan Murphy to issue an emergency executive order mandating people wear masks when inside local businesses to slow the coronavirus’ spread.
The order states that people must wear a “face covering in any indoor location” other than a residence.
People are not required to wear face masks when eating or drinking at a restaurant or if a mask would “cause impairment due to an existing health condition.”
People working alone, or in offices that maintain social distancing between employees, are exempt from the order. Children younger than 2 years old also are exempt.
“We need to do this,” Commission Chair Carol Carter said. “The visitors aren’t obeying any sort of rules. … We need to protect our residents.”
The order established a $50 fine for violating the order, but Murphy said the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office — which is contracted by the city for law enforcement — won’t provide enforcement for the order.
Instead, he said, code enforcement officers will issue fines.
“The object of this order is not to make money,” Murphy said. “It’s to gain compliance.”
Murphy said code enforcement officers will not respond to anonymous complaints, saying they experienced a backlog of inaccurate complaints when enforcing a prohibition on vacation rental activity.
The Anna Maria mask order went into effect June 27 and is set to expire Saturday, July 4, unless extended.
The city commission will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 2, to collect public feedback and consider renewing the order. Commissioners also will discuss whether to expand the order to the outdoors.
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie did not respond to an email and phone call June 26 asking if the city had plans to discuss making masks mandatory.
The Holmes Beach and Anna Maria mandates can be viewed online at islander.org.
Some businesses close as new area COVID-19 cases spike
The recent spike in new COVID-19 cases sent some businesses back to square one.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation announced June 26 a statewide suspension of on-site alcohol consumption at bars.
The Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge announced June 26 on Facebook that the lodge had closed. The post read, “We will update you further as we receive more information. Thank you and please remain Moose Strong!”
The state had allowed bars, including the Moose Lodge, to reopen June 5 as a part of phase 2, but the number of new cases skyrocketed afterward.
“Based on recent increases in COVID-19 cases and non-compliance with previous orders, DBPR has taken action to suspend on-premises alcohol sales at bars,” DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears said in news statement June 26.
Beshears said bars could sell alcoholic beverages in sealed containers for consumption off-premises and restaurants could continue to serve alcoholic beverages to diners.
However, the state suspended the sale of alcoholic beverages at bars that are licensed based on 50% of gross revenue from alcoholic beverages.
Bars weren’t the only businesses struggling with the pandemic.
The Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at the Manatee Public Beach, Holmes Beach, announced via its Facebook page June 22 that a member of the restaurant staff tested positive for COVID-19 despite following safety guidelines.
The restaurant reopened June 24, announcing on Facebook the remaining staff tested negative for the virus and, “at this time, we feel it is safe to reopen.”
Pizza Social, 308 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, announced June 24 that a worker preparing the restaurant for opening tested positive for the virus and, while the person hadn’t worked in the restaurant, the business closed temporarily.
“We will be disinfecting the restaurant and taking measures to ensure none of our other staff members test positive,” the announcement stated. “We thank you for your understanding and look forward to bringing you great pizza again soon. Be safe.”
The Anna Maria Island Historical Society, 402 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, also announced a closure June 24 via Facebook, citing “health concerns.”
“The museum will reopen as soon as possible,” the post stated. “Please stay safe and come back and visit us another time.”
— Ryan Paice
Click here to view: CITY OF ANNA MARIA STATE OF EMERGENCY- COVID-19 ORDER#33 REQUIRING FACEMASK USE.
Click here to view: CITY OF HOLMES BEACH EMERGENCY ORDINANCE NO. 20-11
Click here to view: STATE OF FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL REGULATION EMERGENCY ORDER 2020-09