PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Leaders in Texas and Mississippi are the latest in the nation to announce they’re lifting statewide mask mandates, against CDC recommendations.
We wanted to know: Could Florida follow a similar trend and what would it take for mask mandates to be lifted locally? It turns out 18 local doctors have already come up with a strict set of recommendations for local leaders in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties laying out criteria they think should be met before mask rules are lifted.
USF College of Public Health Dr. Thomas Unnasch is one of the 17 doctors to give his input. The doctors collectively agreed it would be reckless to discontinue mask rules until there are no more than 45 new cases per day in Hillsborough County, 30 new cases a day in Pinellas County and 14 new cases a day in Pasco County. They also recommend waiting until our test positivity rate falls below 3% for four consecutive weeks.
“Why take a chance now when we can just go for another 10 weeks and really be through it,” Unnasch explained.
With Spring Break just around the corner, doctors stress getting through the next few months could be key to putting the COVID-19 pandemic behind us — for good.
“It’s not a gamble that I think anyone should be taking in this country at this point in time and certainly not Florida,” Unnasch elaborated. “One thing that’s not sick of all of these precautions is the virus. It doesn’t have a brain, it doesn’t care, it doesn’t get bored and if we give it a chance it’s gonna exploit us.”
Missy Secore, the owner of MisfitCurls and More in Largo, is ready to get back to normal, like so many of us. Still, she’s willing to put up with wearing a mask day in and day out until it’s safe.
“That mask is just a little tiny barrier and if that allows us to do what we love to do, then we are happy to do it,” she said.
So, when can we realistically expect to ditch our prime accessory from the past year? Unnasch says likely June to July— if we keep our guards up and the vaccination schedule stays on pace.
Secore is counting down the days. “We have joked that we’re going to have a mask burning party when it’s all safe and we’re allowed to do so. I miss seeing my client’s faces,” she explained.
You can see the full list of reccomendations doctors are making to Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough leaders here: https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/consensus-statement.