PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The debate over mask-wearing was on full display Thursday morning during the Pinellas County Commissioners meeting.
Ultimately, the Board unanimously voted to extend the emergency order through at next week which includes a county-wide face mask requirement.
The Board is considering a public hearing to strictly discuss the mask mandate but on Tuesday, commissioners did not make a motion to put a hearing on the calendar.
The virtual board meeting started 9:30 a.m. and for three straight hours, person after person called in to voice their opinions to the board.
A majority of the callers were urging the board to do away with the mask mandate.
Some callers said the ordinance is against the law and takes away their freedom of choice. Others compared the coronavirus to the "common cold" and stated most people who come down with the virus make a full recovery.
Others claimed that mask-wearing hurts their immune system and does more harm than good.
Parents said their children have rashes and get too hot under the mask. People with asthma and other respiratory issues said they suffer from attacks being forced to wear the mask.
The county implemented a county-wide face mask order in June. The ordinance lists several exemptions, including those for specific medical reasons.
Callers in favor of the mask mandate cited Pinellas County's encouraging coronavirus data as a result of the mask ordinance.
Some people begged the board to keep the mask order in effect because it protects others. A handful of medical professionals also called in asking the board to stick to masks.
Dr. Linsey Grove with the University of Florida College of Public Health said wearing masks will ensure we can all safely vote in November and contribute to the economic recovery.
Commissioner Pat Gerard said while those opposed to the mask mandate took up the majority of public comment Tuesday morning, based on e-mails the Board has gotten on the issue, most Pinellas residents support the face mask requirement.
According to data from the Florida Department of Health, Pinellas County has an average three percent positivity rate over the last two weeks. That means three percent of all coronavirus tests in the county are coming back positive.
Health experts say a five percent positivity rate indicates the virus could be under control in a given community.
Regardless of what the Pinellas commissioners decide, it's expected that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will maintain a face mask requirement in his city.
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