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Doctors, businesses take action regarding masks as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

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Posted at 5:49 PM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 17:50:43-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Masks are front of mind once again as the Delta variant continues to spread throughout communities across the country and in Florida. From schools to businesses, many people are asking the question of when should masks be used and should they be required?

Some businesses are taking new steps to keep their employees safe.

“We felt this was the right time to do it,” said Jeff Houck, a marketing and PR manager for the Columbia Restaurant Group. “We didn’t want to wait for the CDC or some other government agency to kind of come in and tell us what to do.”

In a recent post on social media, the Columbia Restaurant Group’s President and CEO Richard Gonzmart stated they will require staff to wear masks while working, noting Delta variant infection rates rising, and said they are choosing to be proactive for everyone’s health.

“As the numbers climbed, we’ve decided to put them back on. We’ll keep them on as those numbers kind of give us more information. They’ll eventually come off one day, but not sure when that’s going to be at this point,” said Houck.

“I think if we want to prevent the disruption of the classes, I think wearing the masks will be the best way to go,” said Dr. Beatriz Sankey, a pediatrician with Children’s Medical Center.

One hundred and eighty physicians from across Tampa Bay penned a letter to the Hillsborough County School Board and Superintendent urging them to reinstate the mask policy, citing locally a surge in COVID-19 infection rates they say is likely attributable to the Delta variant. Right now, masks are optional in Hillsborough County schools for students and staff for the upcoming school year.

ABC Action News reached out to the school district about the letter.

Dr. Lisa Cronin, a pediatrician at Children’s Medical Center, and Dr. Sankey both explain at Children’s Medical Center they’ve seen a dramatic increase in COVID pediatric cases recently. Cronin says they’re concerned about the rapid spread that may happen when school resumes without masks.

“Masks are not perfect. It’s not, if you wear a mask, you’re not 100 percent not going to get COVID, but we do know from all the evidence we have from the kids that were in school last year, that masks do prevent and slow the spread of COVID,” said Dr. Cronin. “And there’s no vaccine available yet for kids under 12, and so the masks are the only defense that these kids have at this point. They have nothing else.”

ABC Action News asked Tampa Bay area school districts about their current mask policies and if they plan to change them as we approach the new school year and with the Delta variant picking up. Some said their mask policies are still optional, while another added their school board would be discussing back-to-school protocols related to COVID at their next meeting.

The CDC does recommend if you are not fully vaccinated and age 2 or older, you should wear a mask in indoor public places.

“I don’t want to wear a mask forever, I don’t want my kids to wear a mask forever, but if the positivity rate of this virus is high in my community, I will do everything I can to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Sankey.