TAMPA, Fla. - With coronavirus cases spiking, Hillsborough County’s emergency planners will join their counterparts across the bay in considering an order to make face-coverings mandatory in some situations. But Tampa mayor Jane Castor has opted not to wait.
A mandatory-mask order will go into effect at 5 p.m. tomorrow for the city of Tampa, the mayor announced during Thursday’s Emergency Planning Group meeting. A city spokesperson says it will apply to everyone in an indoor public setting where social distancing is not possible. Violators would be subject to civil citation.
“This is an emergency now,” Castor told the EPG. “I’m willing to put a mandatory mask ordinance for the city of Tampa right now to protect citizens.”
Meanwhile, the EPG voted to draft a mask ordinance for further discussion at their next meeting on Monday. The language was not set, but the general idea was to create a clear rule that would apply to business employees and possibly customers out in public.
"If they are going to leave their house and go to a place, this will play a major role in stopping the spread," Commissioner Sandra Murman offered, comparing the proposal to the one St. Petersburg enacted.
In St. Pete, which has also seen an increase in cases, the mayor announced public-facing employees must wear a mask inside businesses starting Friday.
Previous attempts at requiring masks in Hillsborough County have failed when board members from the more rural areas of the county – with fewer COVID-19 cases – rejected the idea of a countywide mandate.
Again Thursday, the idea of even drafting a proposal to consider was opposed by Sheriff Chad Chronister, school board member Melissa Snively, and Plant City mayor Rick Lott.
“Let’s go back to the beginning. Our job was never to find the cure for COVID. Our job was to not overwhelm the medical system and our hospitals,” Lott said, explaining his opposition. “To me, this is going as planned.”
“If there’s another solution on the table, fine. But we have to do something,” Commissioner Murman offered.
Florida set yet another record for new COVID-19 cases Thursday, with just over 3,200 new cases, and the state's rate of positve tests has increased. Several local bars and restaurants announced they were temporarily closing as employees tested positive for the virus.
USF public health professor Dr. Thomas Unnasch told the group that cases are doubling at a rate of once every five days in Hillsborough County, faster than the state of Florida average, which is once every seven days.
Dr. Unnasch said that his models show that by mid-July, 1 million Hillsborough County residents – half of the county’s population – could be infected if no action is taken.
“If we do nothing, we can close this whole system down and not worry about this by early September but at that point we’re going to have 70-percent of our population have this disease and God knows how many dead bodies laying in the streets,” he said. “Please, please do something to bend this curve. If we don’t do this and don’t act quickly, this is growing exponentially right now. Every day is precious.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article mis-identified Rick Lott as the vice mayor of Temple Terrace. This version has been corrected.