TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County‘s Emergency Policy Group is under increasing pressure to put tougher restrictions in place as the number of COVID-19 cases in the area continues to increase.
Board members are debating whether to pass a mask mandate similar to the one enacted this week in St. Petersburg and said they will vote on the matter on Monday.
In the same EPG meeting on Thursday, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she is working on an order to require face coverings in the city. In a Facebook live news conference later that evening, Castor said the order would go into effect at 5 p.m. Friday.
The order would require face masks in indoor public spaces, but not in homes.
The 14-day average of the number of COVID-19 cases in Hillsborough County, even with no substantial increase in the number of tests being taken, has soared from 109 a week ago to 337 Thursday.
The board again wrestled with the idea of putting some sort of restrictions in place for the entire county.
Some members lean heavily toward the idea of requiring facemasks at restaurants and other businesses where people come within six feet of each other for more than 10 minutes at a time.
But, they questioned whether their own steps would be legally consistent with the governor’s executive orders, and Sheriff Chad Chronister questioned how his department could possibly enforce it.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to mandate something like that,” said board member Melissa Snively, who suggested further education would help.
Board member Sandra Murman, who weeks ago opposed any mandates, called the figures frightening and said she would favor requiring masks.
“Tell me what other solution we have. Education? Come on,” Murman said.
Les Miller, chairman of the EPG board, received silence after asking the rest of the panel: “What is the problem with wearing a mask to cut down on the numbers that went from 244 yesterday to 337 today? Somebody, please explain that to me.”
The age groups affected are also a growing concern.
There continues to be a large number of people between 15 and 45 years old testing positive for COVID-19. And, while their hospital stays when necessary have not been lengthy, there is growing evidence that relatives of those patients -- aunts, uncles and older parents, are also testing positive now and requiring longer stays in intensive care units.
Ultimately, the board voted 5-3 on Thursday to allow the county attorney to draft an order which will likely resemble St. Petersburg’s new mask rule, with plans to discuss and vote on it Monday.
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