VENICE — The city’s mask mandate was adopted by a single vote, and the switch of a single vote essentially killed it Tuesday without debate.
The Venice city ordinance will expire at 11:59 p.m. Oct. 31 — Halloween.
The mandate had been gutted by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who put a freeze on the collection of fines for the violation of such local laws as part of moving into Phase 3 of “reopening” the state late last month.
His action is what led Council Member Mitzie Fiedler to switch sides and vote to let the ordinance expire.
The resolution was voted on without discussion.
Fiedler, Council members Rich Cautero and Helen Moore and Mayor Ron Feinsod had voted for the original ordinance, in August, and an extension of it in September.
The ordinance required most people within the city limits to wear a mask under most circumstances but also included more than a dozen exceptions. Businesses were required to post signs giving notice of the mask law.
Vice Mayor Chuck Newsom and Council members Joe Neunder and Nick Pachota voted against the ordinance both times.
Fiedler joined them Tuesday in rejecting a resolution that would have kept the mandate in place through November even though wearing a mask “is what I believe in.”
“Gov. DeSantis has nullified any ordinances or laws that can penalize a person for not wearing a mask, rendering our ordinance unenforceable,” she said in a statement. “We have passed a resolution that recommends the wearing of masks along with social distancing, but are no longer able to impose these actions at a local level.”
She said wearing a mask and maintaining social distance is now a personal choice.
“It is what I do,” she said.
Her statement included a reference to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which has warned that COVID-19-related deaths could total 500,000 by the end of February.
“Their study proposes that over 25% of this number could be saved by the simple act of wearing a mask,” the statement says. “Add social distancing and the figure rises to possibly 50%.”
Mayor Ron Feinsod sounded a warning of his own at the meeting, calling the failure to extend the mask mandate a “mistake.”
The City Council will have to start all over again if the number of cases in the state rises, he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Cautero said that the rapid disposition of the resolution caught him off guard. Otherwise, he said, he’d have spoken in favor of keeping the mask mandate on the books even though it’s unenforceable.
It has value regardless, he said, in a city in which the average age is 69.
And there will be a mask protocol when the city lets Venice MainStreet put on a concert next month in an effort to get special events started again, he said. It will be less effective if people can take their mask off as soon as they leave Centennial Park.
By the numbers
The state reported 4,298 new cases Tuesday, and 56 deaths. The testing positivity rate was 6.31%, increasing for the third day in a row and the highest in a week.
Statewide, the seven-day average of cases and the number of hospitalizations is trending up slightly while the seven-day average of deaths is trending downward.
Sarasota County reported 86 new cases and five deaths. At 5.46%, its positivity rate was over 5% for the second time in the last three days.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital had 29 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, nine of them in the ICU. It reported no new deaths since Sunday.
Venice Regional Bayfront Health had four COVID-19 patients Tuesday, and two employees quarantining at home. It had experienced two patients deaths since Friday.
The Sarasota County School District reported 25 people (two staff and 23 students) in isolation with COVID-19 Tuesday. A further 545 people (57 staff, 488 students) were quarantining due to exposure to the virus.
The district reported nine new cases in the preceding 48 hours, and 122 people quarantined.
Venice High informed parents of a new case at the school on both Friday and Monday.