Hillsborough County face mask mandate ixnayed

Face Medical Surgical White Mask with COVID-19 inscription lying on Florida State Flag. Coronavirus in Florida
The county will instead encourage residents to cover their faces in public.

Facial coverings or masks will not be required in Hillsborough County, but they are strongly encouraged.

The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group voted down two efforts to implement some sort of facial covering requirement or official recommendation.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who floated the idea Monday, moved to order all residents and visitors to wear some form of facial covering in places where the recommended six-feet of separation is not possible. That would include places like grocery stores and pharmacies as well as ridesharing and transit.

Only Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman supported the measure.

The other six detractors — Hillsborough County Commissioners Les Miller and Sandy Murman, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott, Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively — offered varied arguments including that the order was overly intrusive, would harm small businesses and was, so far, unnecessary.

Ross said he received a call from a small business owner who employs 70 workers who complained he would not be able to provide that many face coverings for his employees and worried the order would shut him down by forcing him into non-compliance.

Murman argued there’s not enough data to prove the need for mandatory face coverings at this time, but supported keeping the idea on the table for future consideration as the virus continues to peak.

Responding to those concerns, Overman instead suggested an official recommendation for essential businesses to ensure employees who cannot keep six-feet of distance between customers and other employees wear a face covering and that all others do so when unable to maintain social distancing standards.

That motion also failed with only Castor supporting it.

Instead, the county will redistribute previous communication to various community groups and boards that had already encouraged mask use to include the word “strongly encourage.”

Castor lamented the board’s failure to act in a statement after the meeting, arguing the board ignored recommendations from health experts at the University of South Florida.

“This decision leaves essential workers and customers at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. Face coverings not only reduce the transmission of the virus, but they are a vital first step that will allow us to return to a more normal life and reopen our economy,” Castor said.

“Today’s vote could lengthen the time that we will need to keep the Safer at Home order in place, hurting our small businesses and keeping us away from our family and friends.”

Earlier in the day the board voted unanimously, with Miller expressing reservation, to rescind its previously approved curfew. The curfew was in effect for just three nights before members canceled it after massive public pushback.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected]


One comment

  • Marlene

    April 16, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    Such bad decisions. There will be a day of reckoning. Hopefully, people will be smarter than those who govern. If not, let them pay the price – not the rest of us.

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