TAMPA, Fla. - Masks will no longer be merely a recommendation for those in the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa. The orders within each city are slightly different, but both take effect at 5 p.m. Friday.
In Tampa, masks are going to be required for everyone -- workers and patrons -- inside a business or public space where social-distancing is not possible.
In St. Pete, the mask rule is only going to apply to employees who work with customers inside a business.
The Tampa Bay area has seen a surge in new coronavirus cases over the last two weeks. So far, Bay Area leaders have encouraged mask use. Some businesses have even voluntarily implemented their own policies, but with cases rising in Hillsborough and Pinellas, many leaders say they need to move from a voluntary to a mandatory requirement.
In Hillsborough County, officials once again saw more than 200 new positive cases on Thursday. Within the last week, Hillsborough's percent of positive lab tests jumped from an average of around 4% to nearly 9%.
The majority of those cases are within the Tampa city limits. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she wasn't going to wait on county leaders to pass a mandate, saying masks are a key part to stopping the spread of the virus, and it's vital that everyone start wearing them immediately.
During a contentious Emergency Policy Group meeting on Thursday, Hillsborough County and city leaders voted to draft a similar mask order that they could consider during Monday's meeting.
In Pinellas County, commissioners will also consider a mask mandate for public indoor spaces.
"We have the authority to put the force of law behind a mask requirement," Commissioner Kenneth Welch said during Thursday's meeting. "We've tried not to do that. We've tried to ask and folks are not responding."
A drafted mask ordinance will be presented during Tuesday's commission meeting. Commissioners began considering the mandate after hearing from local doctors.
“I am just begging you to think very carefully about mandating masks for indoors in public places,” said Dr. Larry Feinma, chief medical officer of HCA of West Florida. “I oversee the care of 15 COVID units in our division, four of which are in your county. I am more comfortable walking into our COVID units than I am walking into the Publix down the street. I am terrified when I walk in there because the only people that have a mask on are me and the cashier.”
As far as enforcement goes, this will likely be a similar to a 'no shirt, no shoes, no service policy,' but people could still face a civil citation for refusing to cover up.
As far as dining in restaurants goes, people can still go inside and eat. Customers won't need to wear one while eating and drinking, but expect the mask rule to be enforced when walking around inside.
Other parts of Florida are mandating masks inside businesses too. There are now mask requirements in Orange County, Osceola County and Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys.