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Hillsborough points to face mask rule for coronavirus decline

Even with slight drop, “there is still a lot of virus being transmitted in our county,” says state health official.
Michelle Ingram, 52, distributes face masks to Aaron Pham, 44, of Lutz, at Lake Park last summer. Officials credit the public's willingness to follow the county's face mask rule, and compliance by businesses, with helping contribute to a slight decline in new coronavirus cases.
Michelle Ingram, 52, distributes face masks to Aaron Pham, 44, of Lutz, at Lake Park last summer. Officials credit the public's willingness to follow the county's face mask rule, and compliance by businesses, with helping contribute to a slight decline in new coronavirus cases. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Feb. 3, 2021
Updated Feb. 3, 2021

TAMPA — Hillsborough code enforcement officers have visited more than 4,100 businesses since December in an effort to ensure compliance with the county’s mandatory face mask rule. They’ve issued just four citations.

The enforcement, coupled with the public’s willingness to follow the requirement, is credited with a slight decline in the rate of new cases of the coronavirus infection in Hillsborough County.

“It’s great that we are seeing great compliance,” Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman said Wednesday. “... Some of that code enforcement, in fact, has actually assisted in helping our numbers come down.”

“While they (case numbers) are still high, they’re looking good,” Overman said.

In Hillsborough, the two-week average of positive test results for the coronavirus infection showed a slight downward slope to 10.71 percent. But average hospital occupancy rates stood at 87 percent.

“There’s still a lot of virus being transmitted in our county,” said Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department in Hillsborough County.

The county requires a face mask to be inside of businesses if social distancing isn’t possible. Last week, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor mandated masks be worn in outdoor Super Bowl-related events and in the city’s outdoor entertainment districts.

Holt, while briefing county commissioners Wednesday, said he expected the so-called positivity rate to continue a gradual decline. He said the vaccine supply “remains tight” and the Health Department has been told not to expect increases in the number of doses over the next three weeks.

“We don’t have enough of it, but we’re using it the best way we can,” said Holt.

As of Tuesday, 55,716 Hillsborough residents had been vaccinated with the first dose of the vaccine and nearly 20,000 people had received both doses.

The number of coronavirus tests administered in the county recently surpassed the 1 million mark, but the number is now slowing.

Last week, the county testing sites averaged approximately 1,200 daily tests, a 21 percent decline over the previous week including a drop at the state-run site at Raymond James Stadium. Tim Dudley, county emergency management director, said he expected the numbers to rebound after the Super Bowl 55 festivities conclude Sunday. The county’s goal is for public and private providers to administer 47,200 tests each week.

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