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Even with an emergency mandate, Hillsborough advances its own face-mask rule

Commissioner Kimberly Overman said people should be able to wear face coverings indoors without reprisals.
Michelle Ingram, 52, distributes face masks to a driver Wednesday, June 24, 2020 in Lutz.
Michelle Ingram, 52, distributes face masks to a driver Wednesday, June 24, 2020 in Lutz. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jun. 25, 2020
Updated Jun. 25, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough County is moving forward with its own face mask rule despite a more-stringent emergency order issued earlier this week.

The county proposal from Commissioner Kimberly Overman recommends people be allowed to wear face masks on private property without reprisals. She has said it is aimed at workers who want to wear face coverings even if their employers frown upon it.

“Unfortunately, we live in a society where bullying behavior is prevalent and the last place it should rear its ugly head is during a public health emergency,‘' said Overman.

On Thursday, commissioners, meeting in a special session, agreed to advance the proposed ordinance to a July 15 public hearing and vote.

Overman pitched her proposal to the Emergency Policy Group earlier this month and turned to county commissioners after the policy group rejected it.

In the interim, however, coronavirus cases continued to escalate in Hillsborough County and the Emergency Policy Group approved its own emergency order Monday, requiring face coverings be worn inside all indoor establishments in the county, with some exceptions. The rule went into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Overman acknowledged the overlap.

“This does not mandate, in any way, use of face coverings,‘' she said of her proposal. “There may be concern that this ordinance will confuse the messaging, but that was not my intent.‘'

Federal guidelines say staying six feet apart, wearing face masks when that social distancing isn’t possible, avoiding large crowds and frequent hand washing are effective in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

Later, the commission voted 6-1, with Commissioner Stacy White dissenting, to authorize the county administrator to set safety protocols for people entering county-owned buildings, parks and public spaces. The rules could include required face coverings inside buildings and social distancing at parks.

“I think we’re kidding ourselves if we even begin to think we have the staff to carry this out,‘' White said about enforcing the regulations that are not yet in place.

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