HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, efforts are growing to stop the spread of the virus.
I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern found out, come Monday, Hillsborough County will be dedicating more resources to enforce its mask ordinance.
Hillsborough County Code Enforcement will expand the number of officers responding to mask ordinance complaints against businesses from six officers, to every code enforcement officer, about 36.
Code Enforcement Director Joe Gross told ABC Action News this is about getting out and clearing up any confusion businesses may have between state and local rules.
“We’ve heard things coming through federal agencies, we’ve heard state governments that have been involved, local, and local can involve not just the unincorporated county but cities. I can understand and empathize with businesses trying to do the right thing but wants to make sure what they’re asking their patrons to do is, in effect, the law," Gross said.
Gross said during the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Dec. 2, a presentation from USF epidemiologist Dr. Edwin Michael really caught his attention.
In that presentation, Dr. Michael said mask mandates and social distancing have prevented around 1.4 million COVID-19 cases in the region.
“We certainly want to build on that message so we get this over with sooner rather than later," Gross said.
Starting Monday, the officers will also take on a more proactive role and begin distributing information about the ordinance in English and Spanish.
The hope is for businesses to get in compliance before a complaint is even received.
Last week, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri put businesses found breaking the rules on blast, showing pictures of people packed at the bar, not wearing masks and tables less than six feet apart.
The sheriff warned that fines will be issued as a last resort. A first-time fine will cost businesses $100, $250 for a second violation and $500 for a third.
Hillsborough's code enforcement says it responded to about 500 complaints related to the use of face masks in businesses.
The department has issued no fines.
Gross said that could change if a business is unwilling to work with the county. A citation will cost a business $165.
To file a complaint in Hillsborough County, visit this link.