Face coverings essential as COVID-19 cases rise statewide, health officials say

With more businesses reopening and more people venturing out in public, health officials are stressing, more than ever, to keep wearing face coverings, especially as we see more positive COVID-19 cases reported in Florida and the Bay Area.

The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, tweeted on Sunday that wearing a mask promotes freedom, that "face coverings [lead to] less symptomatic viral spread [which leads to] more places open, and sooner!"

Guidance on who should wear masks has certainly evolved since the start of the pandemic when health officials only recommended them for those infected with the virus or those in high-risk categories.

Last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control emphasized they're still urging everyone to wear masks and face coverings in public places where it's hard to keep six feet apart.

"The mask is not on you to protect you. It's on you to protect those around you," said Peggy Thompson, director of infection prevention at Tampa General Hospital. 

She can't stress enough that masks are still crucial to prevent droplet transmission, that they need to be worn tightly, and yes, they must cover both your nose and mouth. They can't just hang under your chin or dip below your nose. Even walking in and out of restaurants, Thompson says, the masks can help to protect you and others.

"We need to all do our part because if we don't, I fear we are going to continue to see the climb in cases," Thompson said.

Remember the two Missouri hair stylists who tested positive for COVID-19, potentially exposing more than 100 clients and workers? It turns out, none of the people have shown symptoms or tested positive. The common denominator? All workers and clients wore masks. Health officials there call it "encouraging" and will study the specific measures taken.  

"The best way we can open up our economy and get back to work and have some semblance of our normal life is to take the precaution of wearing face coverings," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman.

While many companies have revised policies, encouraging and even requiring employees to wear masks, Overman wants to ensure that's the case for all workers. She's proposing an ordinance that would make it a right to wear a mask in private settings.

"If you are in a situation where you are caring for someone who is vulnerable or you have a health issue that doesn't keep you from functioning but it makes your vulnerable, you need to have the right to protect yourself and without consequence, without worrying about whether you are going to lose your job or without worrying about whether or not you look bad because you are the only one in your office who is wearing a mask," Overman said.

"You shouldn't have to apologize for doing something to keep yourself safe and nor should you risk losing your job and being able to take care of your family," Overman continued.

Overman is asking the Hillsborough County Commission to consider the proposal at a special meeting later this month, with hopes of scheduling a public hearing in July. Though the idea of a county-wide mask mandate has come up in discussion, each time, it's been shut down.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know

AROUND THE WORLD: CoronavirusNOW.com

Map of known COVID-19 cases:

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map