Manatee County repeals COVID-19 mask mandate

Manatee County became one of the first areas in the state to repeal their mask mandate, following the governor’s announcement Friday that Florida is now in Phase 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan.

County commissioners voted four to three Tuesday to drop the countywide face-covering resolution and replace it with a proclamation that people should still wear masks when they cannot safely distance.

That means, effective immediately, face coverings will no longer be required to be worn indoors in Manatee County when people cannot socially distance from each other. 

The change does not apply to Manatee County public schools, where face masks are required by the school board. Face masks will still be required inside the County's MCAT buses and public facilities including Manatee County public libraries.

PREVIOUS: Florida ends restaurant capacity cap, moves on to Phase 3 of reopening

Commissioners blamed the governor’s order, which created some confusion by stating that local municipalities could no longer fine anyone for violating mask rules. 

"The majority of people wear a mask not because of a mandate but because they know it's the right thing to do," said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who voted for the repeal. "It's up to each business to enforce whether people should wear a mask or not." 

"Everyone is saying you need to continue wearing a mask to slow the transmission," added Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac, who also voted to repeal the order. "Businesses can continue to keep signs in their businesses requiring visitors to wear masks. They're perfectly within their rights to do that." 

The county commission’s proclamation "strongly encourages individuals who cannot social distance to wear face coverings and supports businesses displaying signs requiring face masks to be worn in business establishments to reduce the spread of COVID-19."

RELATED: 3,266 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Tuesday; 106 new deaths

Florida’s coronavirus cases have trended down after peaking in July, but that drop has slowed or stopped in many areas over the last few weeks.