Hillsborough expands face mask mandate to prohibit standing at bars, gathering on dance floors

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Hillsborough commissioners have voted to expand the county's face mask mandate, enforcing stricter rules on the public as COVID-19 cases rise.

Commissioners voted 5-2 Wednesday to strengthen the face mask order, which says customers must wear face coverings inside businesses when they cannot socially distance from others. The requirement makes an exception for people eating and drinking at restaurants and bars.

The expanded rule says customers must be seated while eating or drinking, which means standing at a bar is no longer allowed.

Commissioners also voted to not allow people to congregate on dance floors.

RELATED: Masks to remain mandatory in Hillsborough schools after judge tosses lawsuit

Also on Wednesday, a judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by parents who opposed the Hillsborough school district’s mask mandate. The judge said the mandate is lawful because it protects the health, safety and welfare of students. 

The new county measures come as code enforcement officers have started going business to business in the county to make sure owners are complying with the mask mandate, social distancing, and increased cleaning standards.

"This is happening now partly because of the uptick in cases, so in a response to that we want to put as much resources as we can on that front, additionally, this is the holiday season and people are going to gather more closely," said Jon-Paul Lavandeira, the code enforcement director for Hillsborough County.

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"We're not out for blood, we're not out to slam people or anything of that nature, our main focus is to educate," Lavandeira said.

Code enforcement officers are going around to businesses, handing out signs and paperwork describing what a businesses' responsibility is to make sure it is complying with the county mandate.

Since the pandemic began, Lavandeira says the county has not issued any citations to businesses and hopes this program will keep it that way.

County code enforcement officers will be checking in with businesses to make sure they are complying through the holiday season.

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