Commissioners, mayor urge regional approach to ending mask mandates

As talk begins in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to end mask mandates, there are calls for Bay Area counties to take a regional approach to avoid confusion.

"I do think we should have a serious discussion about the mask mandate," said Commissioner Sandy Murman during Thursday's meeting in Hillsborough County.

Across the bay in Pinellas County, Commissioner Kathleen Peters urged something similar.

"I am hoping by the next meeting, we have that end date plan," she said.

Though both commissioners cautioned they wouldn't necessarily be on board with ending mask requirements if the number of positive COVID-19 cases jumps back up, the talk led Pinellas County Commission Chair Pat Gerard to echo Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's call for a regional approach.

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"We need to work together on this. We have so many people who go back and forth," said Gerard. "This needs to be something that, as we said at the beginning, we need to have a regional approach."

Percent positivity rates in Tampa Bay are hovering around 5%.

In numbers reported Thursday:

  • Hillsborough was at 5.43%
  • Pinellas was at 2.98%
  • Pasco was at 2.54%
  • Polk was at 4.32%
  • Manatee was at 3.37%
  • Sarasota was at 3.03%
  • Hernando was at 3.45%

The last thing commissioners want is a for a disbanded mask mandate to send one county into a backslide and then take others with it.

Dr. Marissa Levine of USF Health says COVID-19 does not respect county borders in an area as interconnected as Tampa Bay.

"Because a pandemic is a series of smaller epidemics that occur in different places at different times and different severity, if you don't manage the whole thing, you just play whack-a-mole, you have it moving from place to place," she explained.

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However, only the governor can order more than one county at a time to have a mask mandate.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has urged commissioners across the bay to sing from the same songsheet.

"I just think it is critically important that we are acting as one when it comes to addressing the pandemic," she said. "The critical element in that is wearing the mask."

County commissioners in Hillsborough and Pinellas extended their state of emergency orders into next month, meaning mask mandates will also continue.