Hillsborough Co. extends COVID-19 emergency order, can’t mandate masks

Hillsborough County

TAMPA (WFLA) – Hillsborough County voted Wednesday to extend it’s emergency order related to COVID-19, however, a recent statewide order by Gov. Ron DeSantis prevents the county from requiring any mandatory mask mandate.

The Hillsborough County attorney told the board that individual businesses are still within their own rights to require customers and employees to wear face coverings if they choose, but those businesses can no longer be required to do so by state or local order.

The City of Tampa has now allowed it’s emergency order to expire as a result of the Governor’s decision.

Hillsborough County’s health director told the board that the number of people being tested for COVID-19 in Hillsborough County continues to decline and the number of people being tested is down by 6% over the previous week.

The number of people being vaccinated is also on the decline and the county is exploring ways to get more people vaccinated.

The county is considering closing down the vaccination site at the T. Pepin Hospitality Centre, as only 20 people have appointments for the vaccine and only 60 people have signed up to be vaccinated there in the next two weeks.

Dr. Doug Holt with the Hillsborough County Health Department says the transmission rate for the virus remains at about 400 new cases per day which he says is high compared to other neighboring counties.

Dr. Holt says 45.5% of the people in the county have been vaccinated, but the 16-39 age group has the lowest vaccination rate, at just 30%. The county health director says the vaccination rate is flattening out, with a peak of 120,000 doses a week on April 10.

The county is now under 60,000 doses a week. If that rate of decline remains consistent the county doesn’t expect to achieve a 50% vaccination rate until mid-June and a 70% vaccination rate can be achieved sometime in late July.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman says people should still be cautious.

“It is not a time to let our guard down, we have seen other countries enter into a second surge which is actually global in nature right now,” said Overman.

Ben Wax owns LaFrance, a vintage clothing store in Ybor City. The business limits the number of customers in the store at any one time to allow social distancing and it requires employees and customers to wear face masks. Wax says he doesn’t have any immediate plans to change that.

“What’s the good of having a business if it’s at the expense of someone’s health. So, we will still be requiring masks and limiting the number of people in the store for the near future,” said Wax.

Sarah Salvador shopped in Ybor on Wednesday and she says is not pleased Gov. DeSantis is now preventing local governments from requiring face coverings.

“I think that’s horrible because individual businesses, from what I have seen those businesses, like a nail salon are not going to tell people to put their mask on because they want their business. So unless it’s mandated, people are not going to do it,” said Salvador.

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