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Going to the store? Cover your face, but it’s only a recommendation

A proposed mandate, suggested by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, fails to gain support from Hillsborough’s Emergency Policy Group.
Bethel Community Baptist Church member Constance Hills, wearing a protective face mask and rubber gloves during an Easter drive-in church service. It will not be be mandatory for the public to wear a face covering while working or shopping, the Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group decided Thursday.
Bethel Community Baptist Church member Constance Hills, wearing a protective face mask and rubber gloves during an Easter drive-in church service. It will not be be mandatory for the public to wear a face covering while working or shopping, the Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group decided Thursday. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]
Published Apr. 16, 2020
Updated Apr. 16, 2020

TAMPA — The federal recommendation to wear a cloth face masks in public will not be obligatory in Hillsborough County.

The Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group panned a suggested executive order Thursday afternoon that would have mandated that people wear the masks while conducting essential services. This came after the board voted unanimously to rescind a nightly curfew in effect since Monday.

The proposed mask rule said "every person working, living, visiting or doing business in Hillsborough County'' is required to wear a cloth face covering while working or visiting grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, public transit or vehicles-for-hire and in other locations "where in-person interaction occurs but social distance measures are not possible.''

The mandate would not have applied to walkers, joggers, bicyclists and others who exercise while following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing. The federal government recommends people stay at least 6 feet apart to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Hillsborough order also would have granted exemptions to: children younger than 2; workers who do not interact with the public and people with existing medical conditions that would be exacerbated by a face covering.

The proposal will not just help to flatten the curve, but is “a way to get in front of the curve and allow our community to open up more quickly on the economic front,.’’ Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said Thursday.

The proposed order, first suggested Monday by Castor, was patterned after an April 13 order in Osceola County.

"This is a an important practice. You’re really protecting others.'' Dr. Marissa J. Levine, director of the Center for Leadership in Public Health Practice at the University of South Florida, said earlier this week. "If everybody does it and there’s a requirement that may make it easier.''

Castor, however, found herself in the minority Thursday.

“I’m reluctant to want to enact this into law because of the negative impact on businesses that can’t provide masks to their workers,'' said Andy Ross, Temple Terrace vice mayor.

"Please don’t make it an order. Please don’t make it a mandate,’’ said Plant City Mayor Rick Lott.

Both said they supported a public awareness campaign to recommend mask-wearing. Sheriff Chad Cronister said the proposed requirement would create enforcement problems for officers.

Castor said the group shouldn’t take comfort in the county’s relatively low number of cases — 873 cases and 18 deaths — since only 1 percent of the county’s population has been tested. Her motion, however, died after Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman withdrew her second when it became apparent the proposal was doomed to fail.

Medical grade masks block 95 percent of particulates — hence the name N95 masks. A 2013 study provided to the emergency policy group showed surgical masks will block nearly 90 percent of particulate, while an all-cotton T-shirt can filter 51 percent and an anti-bacterial pillow case will trap nearly 70 percent.

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