HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hillsborough County’s new mask ordinance was a testy topic at Wednesday’s meeting of the Emergency Policy Group.
Several callers expressed support for the ordinance, but not the way it was being enforced. Two members of the Boje family—who own the Alley at South Shore and Brandon Crossroads bowling alleys argued businesses shouldn’t be responsible for enforcement.
“To enforce the wearing of face masks, or be subject to criminal prosecution, is too much to ask,” said Debbie Boje.
Jeff Boje said about half of league bowlers stopped wearing them by the end of Wednesday night, and another “8 to 10% walked out.” He also said at least one customer got violent when asked to wear a mask.
“One person even broke a pool stick over his knee in front of a bartender, then tossed it at her, cussing her out, before rapidly exiting the building,” Jeff Boje said. “My employees should not in the position of becoming law enforcement agencies, putting them in potentially dangerous situations. My family should not be in a position of being criminally charged with crimes of people they cannot and do not have that level of control over.”
Another caller supported the ordinance, but said the age limit over which masks are required needs to be raised.
“With respect to masks, it’s ridiculous that this is such a polarizing issue,” said Joe Camino. “I don’t want to wear one, but I do if I can’t social distance. Having said that, we’ve got to increase the mask age from 2. I have two children under 5, and they just don’t wear them. When they do, they drop them on the ground and end up getting more germs. North Carolina’s order is 11 and up. Also, I bring my children to work, and we can’t social distance at work, so you’re putting me in a position where we either have to make the choice to not work or commit a crime.”
Commission Chairman Les Miller later said both issues can be considered by the group, but not until Monday, when the mask ordinance has been in place for seven days and can be reviewed or changed for the first time.
The meeting started out with a lot of emotion from Miller, who explained through tears that he was “taking the high road” after receiving several messages criticizing his role in the decision to impose a mask ordinance.
8 On Your Side obtained a copy of three of the messages, which were sent anonymously, and filled with racist and hateful language directed at Black people, and at Miller specifically.
“I know that a lot of people don’t agree with my decisions or my votes, that should be expected,” said Miller. “We wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t realize that some of the votes we take, people just don’t like. But to threaten and to say the words that they say is just totally uncalled for.”
“But regardless of what they say, I’m gonna work on behalf of and even protect them.”
Hillsborough County health director Dr. Douglas Holt and county business analyst Kevin Wagner also gave a presentation on the surging coronavirus cases in Hillsborough, particularly among the youngest residents.
“It’s the 15-24 and 25-34 are the two largest components [of the increase],” Wagner said. “When we look at their population as a whole, we know their positivity rates far exceed their ratio. The 25-34 makes up 15% of the population [of Hillsborough County], but in this 7-day period they made up nearly 30% of all the positives.”
Dr. Holt said hospitalizations are going up rapidly above their levels from just a few weeks ago. He added that while masks are not a perfect solution, the data show they slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We can disagree on the science, but one thing is pretty clear: while they don’t work 100% of the time, 100% of the time they do help,” Dr. Holt said. “At this point in time we must do all we can to try and slow this virus down. While I cannot guarantee this will stop it, it is our best chance.”
Dr. Holt said that he didn’t expect to see any measurable results from the mask ordinance for at least two weeks, and that would depend on compliance.
“I’m hoping to see some flattening — a gradual slope of decline, but not a precipitous drop,” said Wagner.
The science on coronavirus is changing, and as epidemiologists learn more about the virus, they can better target their recommendations.
“Science is evolving,” Dr. Holt said. “You may remember in early March, when I came and spoke to the county commission, I did not recommend masks at all times, but I also said I would not demonize anyone because I think it’s an unknown.”
“We now know that the amount of virus that’s put out, if you exhale, the amount of pollution you have of the virus is decreased when you put a filter,” Dr. Holt said about masks. “That stops some of it. It’s not gonna stop all of it, so it’s not an absolute, but it does reduce it. And vice versa, it will stop some coming in.”
Hillsborough County’s Emergency Policy Group meets again on Monday, when it will review whether to extend or adjust the mask ordinance.
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