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‘This is a sham’: Public unleashes anger on Hillsborough EPG over mask mandate

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Members of the public upset over Hillsborough County’s mask mandate voiced their anger with the Emergency Policy Group on Thursday, saying they were starting to act like dictators and should be charged with treason.

The EPG opened Thursday’s virtual meeting to public comment, allowing residents to call in and make their voices heard about the county’s response to coronavirus. All of the callers who signed up to speak Thursday heavily criticized the group and the decisions it has made.

“I think the EPG should be totally ashamed of itself for continuing the unconstitutional executive order that was issued last Monday,” the first caller said.

He then went on to slam the medical professionals who are consulted by the group.

“The EPG really needs to think about the qualifications of the experts that are pushing for mandatory face coverings. We’ve heard them speak here, we know their supporting evidence is incredibly weak and we know their treatment protocols are garbage,” he said. “They have no rational basis to recommend mandatory face coverings.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told lawmakers on Tuesday that beating the virus will take continued social distancing and mask-wearing.

“The use of masks, things like that will help to keep the level of infection in the community down which will then make it easier to get the children back to school,” Fauci said.

The caller told the EPG he’s started a crowdfunding campaign to file a lawsuit against the order passed last week and surpassed his goal within 24 hours. A small business owner and his attorney, State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, already filed a lawsuit against the county earlier this week over the mask mandate.

“Your experts are terrible,” the man said, closing out his call.

Another caller voiced a similar concern, calling for more diverse opinions during EPG meetings.

“I appreciate government experts, the doctors and professors but rarely have I heard of the economic impacts of the decisions coming from this board. I have not heard or seen economic experts who know the economics of our county and how this body’s decisions are expecting its voting citizens,” the caller said. “Additionally, there’s been no diversity of opinions from the medical professionals. It would be crazy to be diagnosed with a serious illness without a second opinion.”

A woman who phoned into the meeting called for seven members of the EPG to resign immediately. She named Commissioner Kimberly Overman, Commissioner Sandra Murman, Sheriff Chad Chronister, Hillsborough County School District Chair Melissa Snively, Mayor Rick Lott, Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

“I am actually calling for a dismissal of all of them. I think they should recuse themselves. And I think the State of Florida should charge them with treason,” she said. “These people who mandated this face mask wearing should be immediately dismissed from their position and charged with treason immediately.”

The caller accused the group of not caring about the citizens living in Hillsborough County and pointed out the death toll compared the county’s overall population.

“I will make it my life mission to single-handedly make sure all six of these people do not ever work in government again,” she said. “I promise to you I will make it my life mission to make sure you are out of government.”

Yet another woman called the mask mandate a sham and accused the EPG of starting to become a dictatorship.

“If you’re sick, I’m all for you wearing a mask. But you cannot mandate a healthy person to wear a mask,” she said. “This is becoming more like a dictatorship, the six of you, than it is about helping the community. You guys need to realize we’re not a communist state and you guys are not communists – at least I don’t think so. But if you want to act like communists we can overthrow you guys.”

Adults were not the only ones who called into Thursday’s meeting to speak to the EPG. A teenager called to say, as a student, it’s difficult to see teachers and peers in masks and follow along with them.

“It’s scaring me to see people are in masks,” the teen said. “I don’t like to see a lot of people in masks because the mask isn’t stopping anything at all.”

A 9-year-old girl then called in to voice concerns about masks.

“I believe we shouldn’t wear masks because they’re covering up our identities and facial expressions,” she said. “Bad people and robbers – if someone’s trying to rob a bank and they have a mask on like everybody else, we won’t know if they’re bad or not.”

“It’s also kind of scary to see people in masks because I don’t know if they’re bad or evil or what’s going on,” the girl added.

The public comments came just days after lawmakers voiced their own concerns, saying the debate over wearings masks is becoming too contentious.

“It’s becoming too politicized,” Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) told Nexstar DC correspondent Kellie Meyer on Monday.

The comments and criticism also come at a time when coronavirus cases are spiking throughout the state. Florida’s Health Department reported more than 10,000 new cases on Thursday, the highest single-day spike the state has seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has not issued a statewide mask mandate, saying that he trusts Floridians to be responsible and make good decisions when it comes to wearing a mask.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered masks to be worn in public in his state, which is also seeing a spike in cases.

Hillsborough County recorded about 900 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to the state’s daily report. The county has had a total of 12,376 cases. The percent of positive test results in the county on Wednesday was 18.1%.

During the EPG meeting, it was announced the rolling 14-day daily positive rate is 19% in the county. The seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 hospitalizations is 294 – which is a 42% increase from the previous seven-day period.

The next EPG meeting will be held Monday at 1:30 p.m.

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