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Hillsborough emergency group votes to extend mask order

The county's emergency policy group extended the order for another week by a 5-3 vote.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County extended its mask-wearing requirement Monday.

“I think it’s imperative upon us to keep going until we see these numbers go down and we know that people are safe in our community.‘' said Commissioner Sandy Murman.

The 5-3 vote, the same as the previous two weeks, came after the state reported Monday morning that Hillsborough County’s caseload grew to 19,828, an increase of 678. The dissenters were Sheriff Chad Chronister, School Board chairwoman Melissa Snively and the representative from Plant City, Vice Mayor Nathan Kilton.

Data through Saturday that was shared with the Emergency Policy Group showed the seven-day death rate averaged five per day, more than double the fatality rate from the previous week. Average daily hospital admissions for the week were 69, a 10 percent increase over the prior seven days.

But a recent decline in the rate of positive tests was welcomed, said Dr. Douglas Holt, the county director for the Florida Department of Health.

Positivity rates for tests have fallen from nearly 20 percent to 12.5 percent in recent days, which Holt called “a significant flattening‘' and “encouraging trends.‘'

“Our community-wide efforts are beginning to show some impact,‘' said Holt.

“Transmission has appeared to have stabilized,” Holt said. “If we can keep this up, I expert to see an actual down trend instead of just slowing.”

People age 15 to 34 account for 44 percent of the aggregate case total in Hillsborough County, but that age group showed a slight downward trend in positive test results over the past seven days.

The decline, however, was not across the board. People older than 35 showed an uptick in cases over the prior week.

Also Monday, Hillsborough County also unveiled its own COVID-19 coronavirus dashboard, accessible via the county’s website at HCFLGov.net/Covid19Dashboard.

The dashboard provides aggregate data on such things as testing numbers, positive cases and the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in local hospital systems. Most of the numbers will be updated twice daily, the county said in a released statement. The data related to coronavirus testing is updated once each week.

Data for the dashboard utilizes information from other sources including the Florida Department of Health, Tampa General Hospital Data Exchange, the United States Census Bureau, and the Florida Office of Economic Development.

Members of the public who called into the virtual meeting were divided over the mask order. But the group’s chairman, County Commission Chairman Les Miller, rebuked one caller, Jason Kimball, for attacking individual members.

Last week, Kimball referred to Miller, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and County Commissioner Kimberly Overman as “corrupt.” On Monday, Miller read a statement before the public comment period, stating that callers shouldn’t attack the group’s members personally.

Kimball began his Monday comments by urging Murman and Temple Terrace Acting Mayor Andy Ross to vote against the mask order, saying “tyrannical radicals” in the group were advocating for the mask order, which he said had been ineffective.

After Kimball finished, Murman said she felt she had been attacked personally, and Miller said he would cut anyone off in the future who violated the public speaking guidelines.

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