Importance of masks is key message for Manatee County officials

A new coalition named Mask Up Manatee will focus to spread public health and COVID-19-related information to residents throughout Manatee County.

"The message wasn’t getting out. The hardest thing in public health is to figure out what the leverage point is," said Dr.Scott Hopes, a Manatee County School Board Member.

Hopes says many parents have asked for an in-person return to school, but it can only be done if precautions are taken to protect teachers, students and families.

"I'm going to be honest with you, this is our hope to leverage the community's desire that our businesses can get back to work and our children can continue their development," said Dr. Hopes.

Mask Up Manatee combines forces with the health department, county commissioners, the school district, local business owners and health organizations. The coalition will hand out masks in the community.

Online, through social media, they'll post information on COVID-19, CARES Act funding and reminders to mask up and social distance.

"The goal of the coalition is to reach everyone in our community to participate in these preventative measures so that we can keep the spread to a minimum until the vaccine is ready," said Dr. Jennifer Bencie, the Manatee Co. Health Officer for the Florida Department of Health.

Keeping cases down in Manatee County means life can remain as normal as it can be. That includes helping schools stay open and not having to risk a shutdown.

"We did feel that we have a window of time and a window of opportunity that we can really invoke some change and start to flatten the curve," said Manatee County Superintendent Cynthia Saunders.

Business groups in the Mask Up Manatee! Coalition include the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, the Manasota Black Chamber of Commerce, the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce ant the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce along with LWR Communities, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, Port Manatee and the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation.

In addition to MCR Health, the medical community on the coalition is represented by Manatee Memorial Hospital and the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, Blake Medical Center, Centerstone, the Manatee County Healthcare Alliance, the Medical Society and Suncoast Blood Centers.

Local non-profit agencies part of today's announcement included the Healthy Teens Coalition, Unidos Now, United Way Suncoast, Manatee Education Association and the Manatee Community Foundation.

Local agencies wanting to take part in the new Mask Up Manatee! Coalition are invited to email