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Pinellas commissioners consider next steps on mask mandate

Margie Manning

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Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Pinellas County’s ordinance requiring face coverings and social distancing in public places could be up for review next month.

The face mask requirement, approved in June, has been a flash point during the Covid-19 pandemic. Backers, including top public health officials in Pinellas County, say it has been part of successful efforts to control the virus in the county. Opponents say the mask mandate it is ineffective and violates their constitutional rights. Some of the opponents are part of an organized group called Pinellas County Watch, who regularly comment during the online county commission meetings.

Late Thursday, the Board of County Commissioners agreed to consider the latest data and expert recommendations at their next meeting on Sept. 17, before deciding if they will schedule the public hearing that would be required to repeal the mask mandate ordinance.

For now, county administrative and public health leaders remain cautious about the pandemic.

As of Thursday, there was a cumulative total of 20,655 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Pinellas County, an increase of 67 from Wednesday. Four more deaths related to Covid-19 were reported Thursday, bringing the total number of deaths in the county to 697 since reporting began in March.

There have been fewer new cases on a daily basis in recent weeks, but Barry Burton, county administrator, said case numbers also were low prior to the Memorial Day and July 4th holidays and then hit record-breaking levels.

“We are seeing the trends go down, but we also know that not only do we have 70,000 children and teachers going back to school, we’re also seeing our universities open up,” Burton said. “We know we need to watch this over the next two to three weeks to be able to see the trends and what is occurring on the ground.”

Overall, there has been an improvement, said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, but he also has concerns.

“One thing I’ve noticed over the past seven days is our seven-day rolling average for percent positivity was as low as 2.6. It has plateaued and ticked up slightly. It is 3.1 percent today,” Choe said. “It could be just a blip and it could go down again and I hope that’s the case, but if it continues to increase that can be concerning.”

There’s still a lot that isn’t known about the virus, said Dr. Angus Jameson, medical director for Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services. He said he would be reluctant to say it’s time to move back from the mask mandate.

“The preponderance of the data, studies, expert opinions out there still supports that masks are a valuable tool in slowing and helping to prevent the spread of this virus,” Jameson said. “I wish it was over too. But for me, if the choice is between putting on the mask and saving a life, I know what my choice is.”

Commissioner Ken Welch said the county has made progress in controlling Covid-19 and should be careful about undoing the actions that put the county in a good position.

Commissioner Dave Eggers, who is vice chairman of the board, said he would like to see the state’s phased-in recovery plan advance before the county makes changes.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape with our numbers. I’d like to see that Phase 2 go to Phase 3, and then I think we ought to seriously consider rescinding the mask order,” Eggers said. “If the numbers are going up and out of control like they were before, I’m all for putting the mask mandate as part of the tools to fight this back in place.”

Board members also called for greater emphasis on preventative measures such as good nutrition, exercise and managing chronic health conditions to fight Covid-19.

The county mask ordinance is allowed under a state of local emergency. Commissioners extended the state of local emergency to Sept. 18. That action also allows the county to access federal funds to deal with the pandemic.

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16 Comments
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16 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Richard Johnson

    September 11, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    You were late to the party before. Do not change the mask ordinance until a vaccine is effective. We are about to go into the second wave for God’s sake leave it alone!!

  2. Avatar

    Pat Burke

    September 11, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    There are 3 of us that like to say we agree with everything Richard Johnson said. Keep us save, do not change the ordinance. Thank you and good luck.

  3. Avatar

    Cheryl Hurst

    September 11, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    It troubles me that removing the mask mandate is even up for discussion. Being where others and myself are properly masked is the only measure that makes me feel safe. Until citizens are vaccinated, masks must stay mandatory and enforced. Mayors, Council members, and Commissioners need to remember the people squawking do not represent the majority and elected officials need to act for the betterment of all their constituents.

  4. Avatar

    Camilla Sitaro

    September 11, 2020 at 4:17 pm

    Please, please keep the mask mandate in effect. My husband and I are in our mid 60’s, he works in the therapeutic industry and is contact with many people. We are vulnerable.

  5. Avatar

    Debra Wodnick

    September 11, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    With the numbers stabilizing removing the mask mandate would be foolish. Removing masks would show an increase in the virus. You need to simply look at the large gatherings without masks being worn and the increased numbers of virus to prove the point. We need to simply be patient and wait for a vaccine that has passed all phases of testing to be administered before masks are discarded. Until then the mandates should stay in place and be enforced.

  6. Avatar

    Carlos

    September 12, 2020 at 1:40 am

    Hundreds of Floridians died this week from Coronavirus. Removing the mask ordinance would be one of the most foolish things these people have ever done.

  7. Avatar

    Maria

    September 12, 2020 at 6:46 am

    Keep the mask mandate!!! This reconsideration is in part reaction to quiet the very vocal and incessant complaining of anti-maskers. If you want the county to keep the mask mandate, MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD at the county meetings!!!

  8. Avatar

    Austin S Igleheart

    September 12, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    Changing the ordinance now would be beyond dumb!

  9. Avatar

    Lynne

    September 12, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    I cannot think of a reason you would lift the mandate! We need to be safer not ending up on a respirator or dead!

  10. Avatar

    Eileen S

    September 12, 2020 at 5:59 pm

    The mask mandate is one of several tools keeping our numbers low and making it safer for everyone. It would be a huge mistake to remove the mask mandate. Do not cave to the minority who are not professionals in infectious disease transmission.

  11. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    September 12, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    Please continue to protect us even though some reject. Please maintain the Mask and Social Distancing Mandates

  12. Avatar

    Mary Lou Nelson

    September 12, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    I believe we must maintain the mask and social distancing mandates. If everyone in the USA , not just this county, complied with these mandates and good health practices we could lower the transmission of the virus and keep it low until a safe and effective vaccine is developed and administered to the level to insure immunity. We must rely on our public health experts in epidemiology and infectious diseases to protect all members of our community. Thank you..

  13. Avatar

    Hannah

    September 13, 2020 at 12:28 am

    My children and I are tired of this ill founded “political” threat! My kids are brick and mortar students In Pinellas County. Mildred Helms has ZERO cases of covid! They are also on the national registry as one of the cleanest schools in the country!

  14. Avatar

    Judy

    September 14, 2020 at 7:14 am

    Removing mask ordinance is crazy idea. Need to strengthen it. Did you not hear audio tapes from Woodward’s interviews. We are the worst country in the world for handling this. We have the best doctors, healthcare but we certainly get a failing grade with our numbers. Fall comes to Florida, Flu comes to Florida. We need to get control of this until there is a good vaccination. Keep the masks.

  15. Avatar

    john

    September 14, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    This is not the black plague. It never was. The death rate of 3% is incorrect. Its more likely 00.3% There is no way to determine the case rate. Most are asymptomatic.A false narrative has been created knowingly and unknowingly.The panic has become the virus. The lockdowns only created economic devastation and prevented immunity. All it did was kick the can down the road.But fear that is being fanned by the media for political gain also. We have the data. Why are we not listening? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hStrML7vk5k

  16. Avatar

    Kathy Wilson

    September 14, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    Keep the mask mandate, please! Lack of leadership is the reason why the U.S. has done so much worse than other countries – 4% of the world’s population but 25% of the deaths from COVID-19. We depend on our local governments to follow the advice of public health experts in epidemiology and infectious diseases.

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