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Tampa To Require Masks In Businesses: Hillsborough May Follow Suit

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said Thursday she'll enact an ordinance requring people working with the public to wear masks to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. It would also require anyone walking into a business in the city to wear masks.

Castor told fellow members of the Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group there's been a 900% increase in cases in the past month. 

Her move came after members of the  Policy Group reacted after hearing reports that the number of COVID-19 cases are reaching levels not seen since they first instituted a stay-at-home order in March.

"I'm going to put a mandatory mask ordinance for the City of Tampa right now to protect our citizens," she said. "But if we wait until Monday for a draft, then we're talking about another week, another week."

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It's expected to take effect at 5 p.m. Friday.

County Commissioner Sandra Murman asked for a countywide ordinance to be drafted by Monday.

"I am very worried about this increase. Much more worried than when we shut down Hillsborough County," Murman said. "Tell me what other solution we have? Education - come on."

But Hillsborough School Board chair Melissa Snively said as the owner of a small business, she can't support the mandatory use of face masks.

"As a private business owner, honestly I don't appreciate the mandate," she said. "I'm doing the responsible things. I know that maybe not every business owner is."

Snively instead said the public should continue to be educated about the dangers of going out without a mask.

This week, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman mandated that all employees within the city limits wear masks while working with the public. He also is pursuing another order that would require all residents wear masks while in public.

And Plant City Mayor Rick Lott opposed the move too, saying the mission of the group was to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients, and they have not been.

Dr. Thomas Unnash, a Health Professor at USF's College of Public Health, says the rate of infection in Hillsborough is doubling once every five days. If that rate continues unabated, Unnash said, 1 million people would be infected by mid-July.  

"At that point, we're going to have 70% of our population with this disease and God knows how many dead bodies laying in the streets," he told group members. "Please, please do something to bend this curve."

The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group is expected to vote on mandatory masks at their meeting Monday.

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.