Mask rules could soon change for bars, restaurants in Hillsborough County

In Hillsborough County, the 14-day rolling average for the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 is 13.64%. The steady increase of cases is why local leaders want to do more to help stop the spread of the virus, and more changes could be coming for county bars and restaurants.

Across Hillsborough County, some bars and restaurants have been taking advantage of an unintentional loophole.

"Several businesses that have outdoor spaces didn’t require social distancing or masks, and that’s where it became more obvious that we needed to help them know better ways to protect their employees as well as their customers," said Hillsborough BOCC Vice Chair Kimberly Overman.

Overman wants the rules to be clear, so she is aiming to extend the county’s mask mandate to include the outdoor space where you can grab a drink or a bite.

The proposed amendment says customers inside and outside need to be seated to be served, face coverings must be worn if you cannot socially distance, and crowding together in groups while standing is banned.

"So where you’re able to serve food and alcohol in an outdoor space, you now need to have a place where people can sit so they’re not wandering around without a mask on when social distancing is very difficult to maintain," Overman explained.

She says tightening up the restrictions is the right thing to do, and can help slow the community spread of the coronavirus.

Many establishments across the county are already taking these precautions. Overman believes creating this safety standard will help small businesses thrive.

"Making sure that people want to come to the Tampa Bay area, they want to come to Hillsborough County because they know that the businesses are supported to do as much as they can to keep their customers safe," said Overman.

LINK: Hillsborough County COVID-19 vaccine information

The changes will be debated during Thursday’s commission meeting. The proposed amendment is part of the discussion about the local state of emergency scheduled for 10:15 a.m.

If passed, the order will take effect immediately.