Face coverings strongly urged, not required, for Hillsborough County residents and visitors

Posted at 11:08 PM, Apr 15, 2020

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — For residents and visitors in Hillsborough County, wearing a cloth face covering is only strongly urged and not required when engaging in essential activities.

Hillsborough County's Emergency Policy Group first discussed the motion to make face coverings a requirement earlier this week. Thursday afternoon, the motion did not make it to a vote. A motion to recommend face coverings failed 6-2. Instead, members directed communications staff to strongly urge residents and visitors wear face coverings.

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Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who initially proposed the idea, citing a similar order out of Osceola County after hearing from local public health leaders, provided the following statement to ABC Action News after the decision was made:

"I am disappointed that the Emergency Policy Group ignored the recommendation made by USF’s public health experts that we implement a face covering order for those visiting high-traffic essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies. This decision leaves essential workers and customers at a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. Face coverings not only reduce the transmission of the virus, but they are a vital first step that will allow us to return to a more normal life and reopen our economy. Today’s vote could lengthen the time that we will need to keep the Safer at Home order in place, hurting our small businesses and keeping all of us away from our family and friends.

I urge Tampa residents to listen to what medical experts say and protect yourself and others by wearing a face covering when you go to the grocery store, pharmacy, to a restaurant for carryout or when riding in a bus or rideshare. Continue social distancing and wash your hands. By working together we will be able to get back to a more normal life sooner."

Dr. Thomas Unnasch, the global and planetary health strategic lead for the University of South Florida, said in a recent EPG meeting that data out of Iceland shows we're probably only detecting approximately 10% of the COVID-19 infections that are out there.

He said one thing that has been proven hugely successful, especially in Austria, was the early mandate of wearing face masks out in public.

"If you look at the data, they have been remarkably successful," Unnasch said to the Emergency Policy Group, working to encourage the wearing of mask use. "With that one additional factor being able to really get the epidemic under control and getting in on the downslope right now."

Unnasch said even just simple cotton face masks and coverings can have a significant effect in helping flatten the curve.

So what does this mean for you?

Do I need to wear a cloth face mask or covering?

Wearing a face covering is not required but strongly urged for those in Hillsborough County.

It's recommended every person working, living, visiting or doing business in Hillsborough County wear a mask, consistent with the current CDC guidelines, when engaging in essential activities or conducting essential business.

That means you are recommended to wear one if you are "working in or visiting grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, public transit vehicles, vehicles for hire, and other locations where in-person interaction occurs, but social distancing measures are not possible."

When should I leave the cloth face covering at home?

You may leave your face covering at home when you are engaging in activities that allow you to observe social distancing following CDC guidelines.

For instance, you wouldn't need to wear a cloth face mask when working in the yard, walking down the sidewalk (if they are not within six feet of another person), taking the boat out with family members who you have already been social distancing with and similar activities.

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If I am stopped and not wearing some sort of face covering, will I be cited?

"It wouldn't be something individuals would be cited for," Castor said. "It would be more of an encouragement and education."

She said law enforcement would be educating first and foremost, especially in locations like grocery stores, pharmacies, clinics and other essential businesses under the county's order.

Should my kids be wearing cloth masks or face coverings?

According to Castor, no one under the age of two should be wearing a cloth face mask or covering.