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Mandatory face mask ordinance approved in Hillsborough County

EPG votes 5-3
Posted at 5:09 PM, Jun 22, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County is following suit when it comes to face mask mandates.

Members of the Emergency Policy Group voted 5-3 on Monday to implement an executive order that would require the wearing of protective face coverings throughout Hillsborough County.

The approved executive order requires everyone inside a for-profit business that is open to the public to wear a mask when social distancing cannot be maintained, excluding family members or others residing in your home.

Each business within Hillsborough County will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the ordinance. Those who do not comply can be denied admittance and/or forced to leave the business.

The ordinance goes into effect on Wednesday, June 24 at 5 p.m., and will be re-approved on a weekly basis.

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The following are exempt from the mandatory mask ordinance:

  • Persons under the age of two years
  • Persons observing social distancing in accordance with CDC guidelines
  • Persons for whom a face covering would cause impairment due to an existing health condition
  • Persons working in a business or profession who do not have interactions with other persons
  • Persons working in a business or profession who maintain social distancing from another person
  • Persons working in a business or profession where the use of a face covering would prevent them from performing the duties of the business or profession
  • Persons exercising, while maintaining social distancing
  • Persons eating or drinking
  • Public safety, fire and other life safety and health care personnel, as their personal protective equipment requirements, will be governed by their respective agencies
  • The requirement shall not apply when a person who is hearing-impaired needs to see the mouth of someone wearing a face covering in order to communicate
  • The requirement shall not be applied in a manner that would conflict with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

RELATED: All Floridians should wear masks when social distancing isn't possible, state surgeon general says

In an EPG meeting Thursday, June 18, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott, and Hillsborough County School Board Chairwoman Melissa Shively said they weren't in favor of putting a mandate in place. During Monday's meeting, they voted no on the mandate.

Sheriff Chronister expressed strong opposition against the punishment side of the order. His deputies would be tasked with enforcing the mandate. Business operators found to be violating it would face a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Customers will not face any penalty. The sheriff worries it could all be a burden on the force.

"It will place local law enforcement in a compromising position to enforce. Has anyone considered the secondary effects for our state attorney, the public defender and judiciary who will have to prosecute, defend and dispose of these cases?" he asked the members.

But Commissioner Kimberly Overman insists without consequences, the county will get nowhere.

"I'm concerned that if there are no penalties whatsoever then we are back to square one," she said.

Christine Beck, the county attorney, said without enforcement the order would have become "strong encouragement."

After the end of a three-hour-long meeting, the majority voted to keep the punishments in place.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman was also initially against a mask mandate last Thursday, but after seeing the numbers increase she said education isn't cutting it.

"I am very worried about this increase. Much more worried than when we shut down Hillsborough County. And if it's... tell me what other solution we have. Education... come on. Everything we put out at the county, at the city, is all trying to educate people. And I understand, I don’t like mandates, but we are trying to keep people safe," Murman said.

Meanwhile, chairman Les Miller says the long meeting was a necessity and a show of compromise between all EPG members.

"Even though there were some exemptions made today that I didn't totally agree with we did get an overall good order passed and hopefully it will make a difference in this county where we don't become the epicenter of the nation," said Miller.