TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller said he visited two grocery stores Friday and was "utterly shocked'' at how few people wore facial coverings to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
Miller made his comments Monday afternoon at the conclusion of the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group meeting.
Miller, who said he rarely goes out because he is 69 and has one kidney and a compromised immune system, estimated that 90 percent of the store patrons did not wear face masks, which are strongly recommended by the emergency policy group. Customers also did not follow the one-way aisle markings on the store floors intended to help guide social distancing.
Miller said he believed reopening the state has wrongly given people the impression they no longer need to take precautions.
"It’s not trying to take away your constitutional rights and tell you what to do. It’s to try to protect you,'' he said.
He urged the public to follow appropriate guidelines that recommend staying six feet apart, not gathering in groups and wearing facial coverings outside the house.
“Please,” he said, "we’re begging you.''
Miller’s observations contradicted the results of earlier public opinion polling by the county and HCP Associates that said three-quarters of the respondents were serious about wearing facial coverings while conducting essential services.
The research showed most county residents polled did not have strong reservations about wearing a mask. Those who did cited discomfort or an inability to find masks in stores.
The survey, shared with the Emergency Policy Group a week ago, included 400 responses to a telephone poll conducted April 17-26 and more than 10,800 online responses through April 29.
Miller, speaking to reporters after the Emergency Policy Group meeting, said the dichotomy likely could be explained by the poll’s timing. It was conducted while the state was still under a stay-at-home order. Attitudes likely changed when the state began to reopen on May 4, followed by the beaches and then barber shops and salons on Monday, he said.
“It was really disturbing to me that was going on,’’ he said about his grocery trips.
Dr. Doug Holt, Hillsborough director for the state Health Department, offered some personal advice during the meeting.
“I’m comfortable going out to eat,’’ said Holt, but he would seek a less-crowded restaurant, sit outside and wear a mask.
But using a public restroom?
“I would avoid. My choice,’’ he said.
Restrooms are closed quarters in which social distancing can be difficult and increase the potential to pick up the virus on your hands, he said.
During the briefing, Holt said 150 people are hospitalized in Hillsborough County with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Thirty-two of the patients are in intensive care units and seven are on ventilators. Overall, more than 30,000 people have been tested with 95 percent showing negative results. The county’s four test sites have conducted 11,666 tests and have 3,000 appointments scheduled for this week, said Timothy Dudley, the county’s emergency management director.
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