Restaurant owner leads the call for mask ordinance in Manatee County

At Minnie's Beach Cafe, Kathy Smart has been serving up home-cooked meals for more than 20 years, but she's starting to worry about employees and customers exposing each other to COVID-19

"My customers are like family to me. They’ve been coming in here for years," she said. "I just don’t want anybody to get sick and my employees, we are all a little long in the tooth. We are all in that area where we are all high risk."

Down the road, AMI Beach Cafe remains closed after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

And at the beach on Anna Maria Island, visitors from all over the country pack the shoreline and vacation rentals.

"This is like a petri dish out here. It really is. There’s so many people and the beaches are packed," said Smart.

She is so worried about the lack of mask-wearing and social distancing, she started a petition to have Manatee County enact a mandatory mask ordinance.

About 50 people have signed and she hopes their voices are heard.

"I don’t want to see us get shut down again. I don’t want to see somebody get sick and that results in us being shut down. The main thing is the health of everyone. I just want people’s health to stay healthy," said Smart.

The number of positive cases in Manatee County is on the rise. Two weeks ago, only about 2% of those tested were positive. Now, it's around 10.5%.

"As testing increases in the county as well as the state, positives will continue to rise, however our positive case count here as well as the state has risen substantially higher than just an increase in testing. It’s because there is community transmission going on," said Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur.

Health experts said universal mask-wearing would slow down the virus and save lives. Smart said it's unfortunate that masks have become so controversial.

"I know by doing this I’m shooting myself in the foot because I know it will make a lot of people angry, but the health of my customers and my employees is much more important than the all mighty dollar," she said.

Manatee County commissioners are expected to talk about face masks Tuesday during a land use meeting at 1 p.m.