Hillsborough extends mask order, but will consider changes

Emergency leaders in Hillsborough County extended the countywide mask mandate this afternoon with a few modifications and opted to explore some other changes.

Last week, the Emergency Policy Group voted 5-3 to make face-coverings mandatory inside most businesses across the county as part of the effort to stem the current spike in COVID-19 cases. 

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Since then, several EPG members have expressed concerns about the order, which put the onus on business operators to enforce the mandate.

Plant City mayor Rick Lott, Temple Terrace vice-mayor Andy Ross, and school board chair Melissa Snively wanted to “soften” the potential penalties on business who were not complying.

“I feel like it’s an individual responsibility to wear the mask, not the responsibility of businesses,” Snively explained.

“What we have seen over the last week is a significant increase in people wearing face-coverings inside businesses, wearing masks. So it is working,” Kimberly Overman countered, pointing out that there have only been three calls to police from businesses about customers refusing to comply.

“We’re talking about making this a glorified recommendation,” agreed Les Miller. “I don’t seem to understand the negativity about people wearing masks when we’re talking about saving lives.”

“I am not anti-mask. I am anti-mandate,” Snively insisted. “I support people wearing the mask by choice.”

Ultimately, the group asked the county attorney to look at options to balance the penalties between business operators and individuals when problems arrive.

They’ll see what the results of the investigation produce, then discuss either at Thursday’s meeting or next Monday.

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Otherwise, the group was less divided. They voted unanimously to amend the ordinance to exempt all children under 18 while they are participating in youth sport leagues or childcare activities, and also to change the minimum age for masks from 2 years old to 8 years old.