Manatee County to explore education campaign in lieu of mask order

County-by-county, Bay Area leaders are debating whether mask mandates are necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In Tampa, everyone must wear a mask inside a public place, where you can't socially distance. For the rest of Hillsborough County, the rule only applies to employees at indoor businesses starting Wednesday.

Pasco County passed a mandate Tuesday, similar to Tampa’s order, starting Thursday at 5 p.m.

Lakeland city commissioners voted not to make masks a requirement.

Polk County and most other counties in the Bay Area have not yet made a decision, including Manatee County, where commissioners discussed the topic of masks Tuesday.

Manatee County commissioners also discussed other ways to remind the community of the severity of the virus.

RELATED: Who will enforce mask mandates, and how?

While Manatee County commissioners are looking at other ways besides masks to educate the public, commissioners say something needs to be done.

Testing has shown there is a 6.1% positive rate in the county. More than 1,100 people have recovered from the virus in Manatee County but 328 new cases have popped up since Friday.

And these cases are not tied to long-term care facilities. Manatee County says the median age of those coming down with COVID-19 is now 41.

There's concern that a lack of social distancing, a disregard for mask-wearing, and lack of hand washing are all playing a role in spreading COVID-19.

Manatee County Commission Chair Betsy Benac said educating the public about individual responsibility should be the government’s focus.

“I get it that they’re just numbers and anybody can spin them any what way they want. I’ve seen that as well. It’s such a teeny tiny portion of the population, we shouldn’t worry about such a thing. Well, I have my husband who if he gets this disease it could be game over. I’m concerned because Friday night I went out to the Gulf Drive Café, it felt wonderful to sit on the beach. How wonderful. Two people have tested positive. How do I feel that I could bring this home? I wish every person would have a sense of personal responsibility that they could cause the death of somebody by bringing this home. Do I think it’s right to have an ordinance to mandate you wear a mask? No, because I don’t think it will do any good. I want people to do it for the right reason,” Benac said.

Commissioners ultimately asked the Manatee County administrator and public safety director to redistribute recommendations that explain the best practices for residents to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

They set a deadline to have those recommendations out to the public by Wednesday.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


Map of known COVID-19 cases:

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