TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County Commissioners on Wednesday voted 6-1 to extend their emergency order for financial reasons, including COVID-19 reimbursement payments. But, mask mandates are a thing of the past.
County leaders took no action regarding local mask rules – effectively allowing them to end as required by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' Monday suspension of local emergency ordinances.
The county attorney explained that the governor's executive order effectively ended those local mandates immediately, despite the county’s latest health report showing COVID-19 positivity rates near 10 percent.
"Unfortunately, our vaccination efforts, as mentioned, have stalled," said Hillsborough County Health Director Doug Holt.
Frustrated, board members are now shifting their attention toward encouraging people to get their COVID vaccines.
"We really, now, are going to depend on individuals to make the right choice for themselves and the community," said Commissioner Harry Cohen.
"A second surge is a risk if we let our guards down," warned Commissioner Kimberly Overman.
The easing of coronavirus restrictions comes a day after Pinellas County leaders announced they would be rescinding their business face covering requirements in compliance with the governor's announcement. Pinellas County also lifted the requirement that large events submit safety plans to the local government.
Earlier this week, DeSantis cited the number of Floridians vaccinated, the surplus of doses in the state and his desire for people in the state to live freely as reasons behind the decision to prevent counties from continuing face covering requirements with no end in sight. The governor added that certain emergency orders and "extraordinary measures" are not justifiable at this point.
Private businesses can still require face coverings or COVID-19 safety protocols at their discretion. The counties just can't force them to do so.
Pinellas and Hillsborough County schools will both continue to require face coverings on campus through the end of the current school year.
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