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Pinellas, Pasco Counties Approve Mandatory Face Masks; Manatee Considering Recommended Route Instead

A sign outside a store in University Mall tells customers and employees face masks are required to enter. Pinellas and Pasco counties became the latest Tampa Bay area communities to require similar face coverings for businesses Tuesday.
Daylina Miller
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

With the number of COVID-19 cases climbing in the Tampa Bay area and statewide, two more local governments approved mandatory mask requirements Tuesday.

Pinellas County commissioners voted 6-to-1 to approve a mandatory countywide face mask ordinance that goes into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Commissioner Karen Peters was the sole dissenter. While she said she supports wearing face coverings, she didn't want to make them mandatory.

After a six-hour debate that drew around 100 public comments and more than 1,100 public emails, commissioners decided that Pinellas County residents must wear face masks or coverings when they're indoors at public locations.

READ MORE: Yes, Wearing Masks Helps. Here's Why

There are a number of exceptions, including for people with medical conditions. Parents or guardians have the discretion to decide for children under age 18.

Businesses and customers that don't follow the order could face a warning, a non-criminal citation with a fine, and a misdemeanor arrest or a notice to appear for repeat violations.

The Pasco County executive policy group also approved a mandatory face covering requirement Tuesday.

Business owners and employees in both counties will be responsible for enforcing the requirements and making sure people who are not wearing a face covering do not enter.

Masks and face coverings are also required in Pasco County government offices, and while schools were not included in the order, Superintendent Kurt Browning announced that the district will require them for employees and visitors.

The Pasco order went into effect immediately, but enforcement will not start until 5 p.m. Thursday.

Also Tuesday, Manatee County commissioners discussed what next steps they will take to try to curb the growth of cases there. While no formal vote was taken, they're expected to endorse many of the recommendations issued by Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees Saturday when they hold a vote Wednesday.

That includes a recommendation - but not a requirement - that people wear face coverings when social distancing isn't possible. Board members also voted 5-2 to get county public safety officials to come up with guidelines to share with the public.

Hillsborough County, as well as Tampa and St. Petersburg, have already approved mandatory mask orders in the past week. Lakeland commissioners discussed a mask ordinance Monday but took no action.

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Mark Schreiner has been the producer and reporter for "University Beat" on WUSF 89.7 FM since 2001 and on WUSF TV from 2007-2017.