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Pinellas, Hillsborough Discuss Relaxing Mask Ordinances

Woman in face mask
Leon County COVID-19 Information Portal

Officials in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are talking about relaxing their mask ordinances - but decisions are still a ways off.

During their meeting Thursday, Pinellas County commissioners heard from more than 80 citizens - along with more than 1,300 emails and voicemails on both sides of the issue.

However, they did not schedule a vote on repealing the mask ordinance, and extended the state of local emergency for one more week.

Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, told commissioners that area COVID-19 trends remain encouraging, saying the rolling 7-day averages shows 90 new cases and about 3 percent positive test rates. However, he also advised against relaxing the requirements for face coverings and social distancing at this time.

“Two months ago in Pinellas County, we saw a huge surge in cases, which resulted in a large number of deaths and hospitalizations,” Choe said. “It got to a point where the hospitals were strained and there were staff shortages with a significant number of people on ventilators in ICUs. We certainly do not want to go back there.”

Pinellas County commissioners will meet again Tuesday.

Across the bay, Hillsborough commissioners Sandy Murman and Stacy White told colleagues they wanted to discuss revoking the county's face mask rule at their next meeting on Oct. 1.

During Thursday's meeting, the pair cited declining COVID-19 positivity rates, but commission Chair Les Miller Jr. said that the rate had not hit the recommended threshold of 5 percent. A decision on further discussion was not made.

Pasco County commissioners are expected to talk about their mask ordinance next week.