NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - With COVID-19 vaccination rates steadily rising, Pasco County officials have rescinded the countywide mask order that was issued at the beginning of the pandemic. However, public schools in the county will still require face coverings on school campuses.
The county says it is recommending the "continued use of face coverings in most indoor public places where social distancing cannot be maintained," but the mandate issued last June is dropped, effective immediately.
Officials cited declining hospitalization rates and the increasing number of residents who have been vaccinated.
According to the county, 70 percent of Pasco residents 65 and older have been vaccinated, and 57 percent of Pasco residents 50 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The county noted that face coverings are still required on all public transportation buses because of federal requirements, and the lifting of the order does not apply to "entities outside the control of the Pasco Board of County Commissioners," including schools and courthouses.
Source: Fla. Dept. of Health
Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said schools will continue to require masks for all staff, students and visitors on school campuses and in district offices for the time being.
"I cannot in good conscience abandon our health and safety protocols at this time," Browning said in a statement. "Our protocols have helped to prevent, and certainly reduce, the spread of COVID-19 among our students and staff."
Browning asked parents, students and staff to be "patient and vigilant" as they near the end of the school year -- adding that he is optimistic that masks will no longer be required when they return in the fall.
The announcement comes on the same day that Florida opened vaccine eligibility to all adults over the age of 18, while those as young as 16 are able to get the Pfizer vaccine.