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Hillsborough could consider tougher mask rule

Commissioner Kimberly Overman wants local order to match Florida surgeon general's recommendation
 
Bethel Community Baptist Church member Constance Hills, wearing a protective face mask and rubber gloves raises her hand in praise during a drive-in church service held on Easter Morning on the church's property April 12. Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman said Thursday that Hillsborough's emergency order requiring face mask indoors should match the Florida surgeon general's July 20 recommendation to also wear masks outdoors if social distancing isn't possible.
Bethel Community Baptist Church member Constance Hills, wearing a protective face mask and rubber gloves raises her hand in praise during a drive-in church service held on Easter Morning on the church's property April 12. Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman said Thursday that Hillsborough's emergency order requiring face mask indoors should match the Florida surgeon general's July 20 recommendation to also wear masks outdoors if social distancing isn't possible. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]
Published July 30, 2020|Updated July 31, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman wants the county to consider toughening its face mask rules to include wearing the coverings outdoors.

Overman made her suggestion at the conclusion of the Emergency Policy Group meeting Thursday afternoon, saying the county’s emergency order should align with the recommendation from Dr. Scott A. Rivkees, Florida’s surgeon general.

Rivkees issued an updated recommendation July 20, calling for masks to be worn both indoors and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible and to limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people. The previous recommendation called for limiting group gatherings to 50 people and for masks to be worn “in any setting,’' but did not specify outdoors specifically.

The state recommendation cites July 16 data showing increased cases, an increased rate of positive cases and increased hospitalizations from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coranavirus.

The county adopted its emergency order, requiring face masks to be worn indoors if social distancing is not possible, in June. It only addresses the indoor use of masks.

“I think it’s important to make sure that our public health orders actually match or at least are in alignment with the Florida surgeon general’s recommendation.” Overman said.

Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr., also chairman of the Emergency Policy group, said after the meeting, he would reserve judgment on Overman’s idea until the county attorney’s office reviews the state recommendation and the county’s earlier order.

However, he said he personally supported the effort.

“I am one to believe that masks save lives,” said Miller. “I’m inclined to believe whatever we can do to encourage people to wear masks that we do that. ... Me, personally, I would prefer that people wear masks constantly whether inside or outside.”

Overman, Miller and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor had been the early advocates on the Emergency Policy Group for a face mask requirement. Overman called Rivkees recommendation “a birthday present’' since it was issued on her birthday.

The Hillsborough Commission also adopted Overman’s proposal to allow people to wear masks on private property without retribution, an ordinance the commissioner said came from employees who said they worried about workplace retaliation if their employers frowned on face masks.

The emergency policy group is expected to consider Overman’s suggestion Monday, when it must vote to renew its weekly emergency order that contains the face mask rule.

During the policy group meeting, Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department for Hillsborough County, said the seven-day average of new cases in Hillsborough County stood at 482 and “that decrease is slowing a bit, so we have to keep an eye on it.”

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Earlier Thursday, the state Health Department said that Hillsborough County added 474 cases, bringing its total to 28,742. The county recorded eight additional deaths, bringing the total number of fatal COVID-19 cases to 336. Thirty-four new patients were hospitalized, for a total of 1,255 since the pandemic began.

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