Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended all pandemic-related emergency orders on May 3rd, 2021, that restricted the local government’s ability to enforce social distancing and wearing of masks. DeSantis referenced the number of vaccinated Floridians and the surplus of vaccine availability in the state and wants people to live freely as possible as his reasoning for the emergency order suspension. DeSantis’s position is that Florida is no longer in a state of emergency and there isn’t any need for posturing by local government. His announcement was not missed by several members of the Manatee County’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). The BOCC has enacted several ordinances and recommendations in Manatee County affecting residents and private business owners with mask mandates, curfews, social distancing, and closing of county parks and boat ramps since the onset of COVID in March 2020. Currently, wearing masks, social distancing, and temperature checks are required to enter all County facilities.
During the BOCC work session, Commissioner Comments on May 4th, Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge indicated his support of the bill and to end overreaching COVID measures that have taken place within Manatee County. Van Ostenbridge plans on conversing with the acting County Administrator, Dr. Scott Hopes, and bring the topic of removing COVID restrictions placed at all County facilities at the next BOCC meeting. Van Ostenbridge feels residents wishing to be vaccinated have received the vaccine and those that have not been vaccinated, have made the decision not to. Commissioner Van Ostenbridge told the Manatee Herald, “I support Governor DeSantis order; the timing is right. Residents that wished to become vaccinated have had the opportunity to so. I support the immediate repeal of all emergency policies placed by the BOCC at the onset of the pandemic. It is time to return Manatee County to our normal way of life.”
In response to Van Ostenbridge’s comments during the work session, Commissioner Kruse announced that he published his position of support for Governor DeSantis’s bill on various social media outlets. Kruse feels as if masks should be optional for people that enter County facilities and not a mandate. Kruse told the Manatee Herald, “The emergency orders placed by the BOCC have long expired past their usefulness. Residents should no longer be further burden by CDD guidelines.”
During the work session, Commissioner Carol Whitmore expressed concern that the virus may be mutating and the possibility of unvaccinated people being in contact with at-risk individuals. Whitmore believes that Dr. Benci, Manatee County’s leading health official, should present more data on the issue before any decision is made by the BOCC. In response to Manatee Herald, Commissioner Whitmore stated, “There has been an increase of 80% of positive cases over the past few days in Manatee County and approximately 30% of the state’s deaths have been in surrounding areas of the County.” She indicated she supports the Governor in his action and it is time to start relaxing some of the regulations but will justify her future decisions as Commissioner based on data.
During the work session, Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and James Satcher stated they were in agreement with DeSantis and felt he made the correct decision regarding his executive order. The commissioners indicated they will support the removal of masks and any other COVID-related requirements within County facilities. Commissioners Misty Servia and Reggie Bellamy did not express a stance on DeSantis Order or lifting any of the restrictions within County facilities. Manatee County citizens will see the BOCC vote on the issue in the short future.
Commissioners Baugh, Bellamy, Satcher, and Servia, did not respond to Manatee Herald’s inquiries regarding Governor DeSantis’s bill or lifting restrictions within County facilities.