PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- It’s a question many of us have wondered: Are mandatory mask rules really working to slow the spread of COVID-19?
Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties are now passing the critical two-week window where health experts say we should start to see the impact of mandatory masks.
In St. Petersburg, the city is at week three of St. Pete’s mask rules taking effect. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says the rules are starting to have a positive impact on numbers.
State data shows in Pinellas County the percent positivity for COVID-19 tests are at the lowest level in two weeks and for five days has stayed at or below 10%.
Yet, the percent positivity is only slightly declining in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, where there are also mandatory mask rules.
So, are the mask mandates really working? The Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Pinellas County says it’s too early to tell. However, they say wearing a mask can only help in the fight against spreading COVID-19.
“We can’t say there is a direct correlation, but everything we can do and every single step we can take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 is a step in the right direction,” Tom Iovino, a spokesperson for the DOH Pinellas said.
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Bars were also forced to close two and a half weeks ago, so experts say that could also be impacting our local COVID-19 case numbers.
“Anytime we see the numbers trending in the right direction, we get excited,” explained Amber Boulding in St. Petersburg’s Emergency Management Office. “But it’s not the time to take the foot off the gas. We look for these long term trends so seeing a three, four-day trend in the right direction is not enough to say OK, we did it.”
That’s why health leaders say it’s critical we don’t let our guards down… even with enhanced rules in place.
Downtown St. Pete business owner Jose Martinez says he’s noticed one good thing with the mask mandates: That people are adjusting to this new normal.
“I would say 99% percent of the people have come in with a mask and they’ve been very compliant,” he explained.
At first, Martinez says he needed to remind customers at Sartorial Inc. to put on a face covering, but now he says it has become second nature.
“That makes me really really happy. I don’t want to get anyone sick and I don’t want anyone to get me sick,” he said.
Kyle Mills, who lives and shops near downtown agrees.
“You don’t like wearing a mask. You don’t enjoy it, but you have to do it,” Mills said.
“Now I think people are beginning to realize it’s not that big of a price to pay to be safe,” his colleague Warren Hunnicutt added.