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Pasco County lifts indoor mask mandate, but schools will still require face coverings

The countywide indoor face covering requirement had been in place since June 2020.
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Woman protecting herself from viruses while wearing special mask

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — Pasco County is rescinding its indoor mask mandate – but county leaders are still recommending people wear face coverings in most indoor public areas where there's not room for social distancing.

The county said the decision to lift the mask requirement was based on several factors, including lower coronavirus-related hospitalization rates and a growing number of people getting vaccinated.

The county mask mandate had been in place since June 2020.

"Pasco County hospitalization rates for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms have been steadily dropping over the past several weeks, increasing the number of available hospital beds for anyone who needs them," the county explained in a news release. "Seventy percent of Pasco County residents 65 and older have been vaccinated, and 57 percent of Pasco residents 50 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine."

On Monday, all Florida adults became eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Pasco County said face coverings will still be required on all its public buses, which fall under federal requirements.

"Additionally, the lifting of this order does not apply to entities outside the control of the Pasco Board of County Commissioners, including schools and courthouses," the county added.

Clarification on the schools portion of that quote came later in the afternoon Monday when Pasco County Schools released a statement, saying it would continue to mandate masks for all staff, students and campus visitors.

“I cannot in good conscience abandon our health and safety protocols at this time,” Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning wrote in a statement. “Our protocols have helped to prevent, and certainly reduce, the spread of COVID-19 among our students and staff.”

Browning said teachers and students had adapted well to COVID protocols and pointed out that the CDC still recommends people wear masks in school settings.

"The number of reported positive cases of COVID-19 among Pasco students and staff has decreased significantly since January. Though the district experienced an increase in March, which likely was related to Spring Break, the recent increases were well below the number of positive cases reported earlier in the year," the district wrote in a statement.

"The superintendent asks parents, students, and staff to be patient and vigilant as we near the end of the school year, and expressed optimism that when teachers and students return in the fall masks will no longer be required," the district added.

On Tuesday, Pasco County schools released an addition statement amid what the district described as apparent confusion over its position on face masks. You can read that clarification in its entirety below.

"Clarification: The authority of Pasco Schools to require masks is dependent on whether or not Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order is extended beyond the expiration date of April 26. If the Executive Order is not extended, the district will have no choice but to make masks optional.

At this time, masks are required for all students, staff, and visitors to Pasco school campuses and district offices. As he stated in a release yesterday (Monday), it is Superintendent Kurt Browning’s wish to keep the mask requirement in place for the remainder of the school year. However, the Superintendent will only maintain the requirement as long as there is an Executive Order in place.

Background: Why is this an issue now? On Monday, April 5, Pasco County rescinded the countywide mask mandate. That had no direct impact on any organizations not under the authority of Pasco County government. On Monday, Superintendent Browning made it clear that the county’s announcement had no impact on the school district, and that the school district’s mask requirement is still in place.

Today (April 6) at the regularly scheduled School Board meeting, Superintendent Browning notified the Board members that the school district’s mask requirement is dependent on the Governor’s current Executive Order. Over the course of the past year, due to the pandemic the Governor has extended the Executive Order numerous times for 60-day increments. At this time, it is unclear whether the Governor will extend the current Executive Order beyond April 26. As soon as that question is answered, the school district will communicate with parents and staff."

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