It’s unfortunate it had to come to this, but St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor made the responsible decision this week to mandate mask policies as coronavirus cases rise. Kriseman’s more lenient order requires employees to wear masks when working in parts of a business open to the public, while Castor’s orders all residents to wear masks in any indoor location. The policies are an unfortunate reminder that government intervention likely could have been avoided if so many people hadn’t flaunted warnings about social distancing, wearing masks and other easy precautions. Instead, we’ve seen an unsettling increase in the number of positive coronavirus tests. The onus falls on all of us to be responsible as the state grapples with its phased reopening. No one wants to close everything down again.
Florida and the Tampa Bay area have set records recently for the number of daily coronavirus cases. On Thursday, the state posted 3,207 new positive tests, the highest ever, boosting the total since March to almost 86,000. The same day, Hillsborough recorded 337 new cases and Pinellas, 203, both records. Florida has “all the markings of the next large epicenter of coronavirus transmission,” according to researchers who run a University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia model.
Given the rising numbers, Kriseman and Castor were right in thinking that it’s time to make changes. They have seen local restaurants and bars reopen and then have to close again when employees tested positive for the coronavirus. The mask orders take effect at 5 p.m. Friday. Violators face “financial or other business operations-related sanctions,” Kriseman said.
Following the lead, Pinellas County commissioners looked to draft an ordinance Thursday that would mandate people wear masks in public. Hillsborough County’s emergency policy group voted to have county attorneys craft an order requiring residents to wear masks when conducting business, which they will take up on Monday. Kriseman also said his team is drafting an order to require all residents to wear masks in businesses. He has not decided whether to put it into effect yet.
The decisions by Kriseman and Castor to mandate masks adds to the examples of Tampa Bay governments taking the lead during the coronavirus crisis. About a week before Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a stay-at-home order for the state, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties took the step to issue safer-at-home orders.
We have also seen how the actions of our residents can have an impact on our public health outcomes. In March, when reports said Florida would be overwhelmed with coronavirus cases like New York, it didn’t happen. Why? Because residents followed social distancing guidelines, even when they weren’t mandated to do so. We heeded the warnings and took action. It’s time to recapture that spirit of personal responsibility. Otherwise, our elected leaders may impose rules we really don’t like.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.