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Pinellas Board of County Commissioners votes to extend local state of emergency

Posted at 5:11 PM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 13:35:39-04

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Pinellas County leaders met to discuss whether or not they’ll vote to rescind the mask mandate in an upcoming meeting on Thursday, but ultimately they voted to extend the local state of emergency, including the mask mandate.

The COVID-19 case positivity rate in Pinellas County continues to stay well below the 5% target. Because of this, several county commissioners are now looking to rescind the mask mandate.

“I think the hospitals are quite prepared, and the hospitals are always gonna mandate a mask as long as this virus is around, as many businesses would still mandate a mask,” said Commissioner Kathleen Peters during Pinellas County’s Board of County Commissioners’ meeting on September 10.

Commissioner Peters said she understands the importance of stopping the spread, but that the purpose of the mask mandate was to flatten the curve. She believes the county has done that.

“I do believe people need to be proactive to be healthy and all that kind of stuff, but I also think that when we did this we did an emergency order to get the numbers down, to flatten the curve, and to make sure our hospitals had the resources they need and the PPE that we needed, and so I’m getting the feeling, just like our callers, that we’re there,” said Peters.

She joins Commissioner Dave Eggers in saying they want an end date for the mandate.

“I’m not prepared to say that I’m waiting two years, or a year-and-a-half, or a year before we get the vaccine, before we do this,” said Commissioner Dave Eggers during Pinellas County’s Board of County Commissioners’ meeting on September 10.

On the other hand, several commissioners agree with county medical experts in saying the mask mandate is what brought the numbers down, and it’s not time to let up.

“I think it’s premature to drop the mask mandate,” said Commission Chair Pat Gerard.

Commissioner Gerard says the county has gotten dozens of calls from people wanting the county to do away with the ordinance, but she says in the last week, the overwhelming majority of calls have come from people in favor of it.

“We’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of emails, and some phone calls, from people who really want the mask mandate to stay in place. They’re afraid to leave their homes without it, they’re afraid to go shopping, they’re afraid they’ll bring something home to their elderly parent,” said Commissioner Gerard.

Commissioner Gerard believes it is in the best interest of the county to keep the mandate in place.

“If we will all wear a mask we will all be protected because it protects you from whatever I might be putting out there. It’s really about courtesy and respect for your fellow citizen,” said Commissioner Gerard.

Pinellas County medical experts and others from across Tampa Bay agree that masks are still needed.

“Politicians are not the public health experts, and all the public health experts, everybody from the NIH on their way down are still recommending wearing masks,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, Distinguished Professor at USF.

As far as an end to the mandates, Dr. Unnasch is hopeful we’ll have a vaccine by the first of next year, which is when he says that decision can be made.

“As people start to get vaccinated we can start to release this thing, but I’m thinking it will probably be sometime late next spring,” said Dr. Unnasch.

Commissioners will discuss whether or not they’ll set a date to vote on the mandate during Thursday’s meeting. If the board does decide to vote on the mandate, that vote would likely happen on either October 1 or October 6.

Any vote the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners makes would not impact the mask mandate put in place for schools in Pinellas County. Pinellas County Schools has its own separate mandate in place.