NEW PORT RICHEY — After a sharp rise in cases of the coronavirus, Pasco County has become the latest local jurisdiction to establish mask requirements for those entering businesses or government offices where adequate social distancing is not possible.
Enforcement of the rule will be up to the business representatives, who must deny admittance or have removed from the business anyone who does not wear a cloth face covering.
The order was finalized Tuesday after a meeting of the county’s executive policy group, which includes members of various government entities and agencies.
“Pasco County is seeing a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, including an increase in our younger population. In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles has issued an executive order requiring everyone in Pasco County to use face coverings while indoors at a public business or county government facility, effective immediately,” according to a press release issued late Tuesday.
In a video released with the order, Mike Napier of the Health Department in Pasco County said the numbers have taken an alarming jump, going up 283 percent in one week. He noted that people were not following basic preventative measures, included social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands, all activities that can keep the virus under control.
The order states that the provisions are designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus and that requests for voluntary compliance have not been practiced on a community-wide basis, so stricter rules needed to be put in place.
There have been 82 new positive tests in Pasco since Monday, bringing the total to 954. The county has seen 113 people hospitalized and there have been 18 deaths. Statewide, an additional 3,286 new positive test results were recorded since yesterday and, to date,103,503 people have tested positive in Florida.
The Pasco order states, “Every business is strongly encouraged to develop and implement a health and safety plan consistent with this order requiring protective face coverings and Centers for Disease Control guidelines and to post the plan in a conspicuous location sufficient to provide notice to persons within the business of the requirements of the plan.”
While the order takes effect immediately, enforcement does not begin until 5 p.m. on Thursday.
“It is the intent of this order to seek voluntary compliance with the provisions contained herein and to educate and warn of the dangers of non-compliance. However, in the event voluntary compliance is not achieved then, as a last resort, a violation of this order, is punishable in the manner specified in section 1-6 of the Pasco County Code of Ordinances including by county ordinance citation with a maximum fine of $250,” the order states.
The order does list exceptions to the requirement, including those who have medical conditions and cannot wear a mask, those exercising while remaining socially distant, children under two and people while they are eating or drinking.
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The Pasco County school district issued its own mask order immediately after the county’s directive came out. Effective immediately, any employees or visitors to the district’s schools and other places of business will be required to wear a face mask or covering.
The action will not affect children in the district’s PLACE child care program, which is operating at 12 campuses. That program is operating on the “cohort” model, which keeps youngsters in separate groups apart from one another. PLACE employees already wear masks.
The decision also does not affect the district’s back-to-school plan, which asks parents to select among three options for when students resume classes in August. That model currently encourages students to wear masks, but does not require it. However, spokesman Steve Hegarty said, “We’re still answering questions” about that plan. “If circumstances change, we will revisit that.”
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said, “We will follow any guidance issued by the County Commission in regards to decisions made on mask orders.”
The order also states that the mask requirements are minimum requirements and that municipalities can enact rules that are more strict if they so choose.