Over the course of a single week in mid-June, most of Tampa Bay’s local governments wisely enacted mandatory mask ordinances. The move sent the right message: That wearing masks is an easy and important step in controlling the virus. Fast forward to today. The number of daily infections has dropped for the peaks in July. Deaths are down, too. But people are still getting sick, and an uptick in cases is still very much possible. This is not the time to pull back on face masks in public indoor spaces, as Pinellas County commissioners said they would consider last week.
At the meeting, commissioners noted the overall decrease in new cases and hospitalizations since the ordinance took effect, combined with a relatively stable percentage of people testing positive in recent weeks. But the pandemic landscape is still very much in flux. Next week’s numbers could say something very different than this week’s. And as the Tampa Bay Times’ Langston Taylor wrote last week, Pinellas' hospitalizations and new cases went from steadily declining to staying the same. At best, the pandemic curve has flattened, but the virus has not been eradicated. At their meeting on Thursday, commissioners said they will look at infection numbers and hospital capacity data. But they should proceed with caution. It’s too soon to discern definitive answers from numbers that could quickly change.
Roughly 20 anti-maskers spoke during last week’s commission meeting, and commissioners have received emails from residents calling on them to revoke the ordinance. There’s also a political reality for Democratic commissioners Janet Long and Charlie Justice, who are both up for re-election in November against Republican opponents. Their decision on the mask ordinance could be a deciding factor for undecided voters. But public safety must trump political calculations.
Masks are an inexpensive and minimally invasive way to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Even if masks turn out to be less effective than originally thought, they work on some level, pose little to no risk to the user and enhance public confidence. There’s no reason to end the mask mandate so soon.
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