The mask mandate for the county was altered to require children age 5 and up to now wear a mask inside a business. Despite decreasing numbers, the county is not yet at the trend the CDC recommends, so the mandate will now run alongside the county’s state of emergency.
With the pandemic response now fully in the hands of Hillsborough County commissioners, two big changes have residents voicing both strong opposition and support of the recent alteration to the mask mandate.
County commissioners held their second pandemic emergency meeting Thursday. Most expected the majority of the conversation to revolve around making the mask mandate part of the emergency order, thus eliminating the need to renew it from week to week after that idea was floated during the prior meeting. The group did discuss the concept after listening to the latest Health Department report, which showed the county’s total caseload had passed 33,000. It was agreed the mask mandate would run alongside the county’s state of emergency and would not be eliminated until either the emergency was over or commissioners requested to amend or disband the mandate.
Commissioners Stacy White and Ken Hagan opposed the motion.
It was a conversation the majority of viewers knew was coming and social media immediately flooded with strong posts about the alteration. However, another motion during Thursday’s meeting caught many viewers by surprise.
Now the order requires children age 5 and older to wear a mask inside a business that cannot comply with the CDC recommendations including the social distancing rules.
When the mask mandate was first put into effect on June 22, a similar tone was used for the management of children with the facial covering. Temple Terrace Acting Mayor Andy Ross spoke up a week later, asking the Emergency Policy Group to consider raising the age to 8 years old as he felt that young children could not realistically be expected to keep it on, which placed a large burden on their parents.
The former EPG members agreed and the change was written into the mandate on June 29. The county commission disbanded the EPG, took over the pandemic response and now seems eager to tighten restrictions once more to ensure the county’s numbers continue to drop.
During the meeting on Thursday, the commissioners had an in-depth discussion on what age was appropriate to require for mask wearing. Commissioner Kimberly Overman made a motion to recommend the group go with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of children over the age of 5 to wear a mask. It was voted on without a debate, but commissioners Hagan, White and Sandy Murman opposed the amendment.
It’s a complicated topic as the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health show the county’s cases are declining. Florida, however, had 579,932 cases as of Wednesday, an increase of 3,838 since Monday. That brings the state’s death toll up to 9,893, which is an increase of 219 since Monday.
During Thursday’s meeting, the Health Department showed commissioners the recent 14-day daily positivity rate finally dropped below 10 percent. The two-week rate was 9.38 percent on Tuesday and the seven-day rate was 7.2 percent.
However, Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. voiced his continued concerns as the county has not yet reached the five percent positivity rate recommended by the CDC.
“We must admit it (positive test rate) is coming down some,” Miller said.
He then voiced strong hesitations about public schools reopening with numbers still not where they need to be.
Parents are concerned as well, though some have different reasons. Hillsborough schools are doing a week of eLearning starting Aug. 24 and students will transition to brick-and-mortar on Aug. 31 for those who wish to take advantage of that option.
The district requires masks for all students, teachers and visitors. However, students with a medical exemption can get a form releasing them from the mask mandate. Those forms have been released by the district and can be filled out by parents who believe their child qualifies.
“Health and safety of our students and staff continues to be one of our top priorities, therefore masks will be required of all students, staff and visitors on Hillsborough County Public Schools property,” County Superintendent Addison Davis said in a statement to the community. “Medical exemptions are only available for children who have a medical, physical or psychological condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering during learning, and is certified by a licensed medical provider. We look forward to welcoming back our students as we get this school year underway.”