Hillsborough County relaxes penalties for businesses if customers refuse to wear masks

As long as a “reasonable effort” to enforce is made, of course.

Hillsborough businesses will no longer face criminal sanctions if their patrons don’t wear face masks despite the businesses “reasonable efforts” to enforce the county’s mandatory indoor face mask policy.

Instead, businesses where patrons defy the indoor face mask policy will face civil citations and an up to $150 fine if they don’t make a reasonable effort to enforce the rules.

According to the reorder re-written by the county Emergency Policy Group during a Monday meeting, “reasonable effort” is defined as signs at entrances and public announcements asking customers to comply.

Under the face mask order adopted on June 22 (and implemented on June 24), business owners were supposed to deny entrance to people not complying and remove customers who refused to comply once inside the establishment. Pushback came as it became clear that retail employees don’t get paid enough to police face mask truthers and purported patriots who are too scared to wear masks in public.

On Monday, “yes” votes came from Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. and Commissioners Kimberly Overman and Sandy Murman, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Temple Terrace Acting Mayor Andy Ross.

Sheriff Chad Chronister, Plant City Commissioner Nate Kilton and School Board member Melissa Snively voted “no.”

One interesting amendment to the order made clear the fact that Hillsborough County’s order should not be in conflict with a Florida law that prohibits people with concealed weapon permits from wearing face masks indoors (the amendment passed 5-3 with Overman, Miller and Castor voting “no”).

On Tuesday, a media relations rep from Hillsborough County told CL that, "Since that discussion, the County Attorney’s Office has researched and confirmed that there are NO provisions in F.S. 790.06 which prohibit a concealed weapon permit holder from wearing a face covering."

Health officials who spoke to the EPG on Monday also offered their analysis on recent COVID-19 numbers for the county. 

Dr. Douglas Holt, Director of the state Health Department for Hillsborough County, said death rates have not changed over the last week and added that visits to the emergency room are down to 954 (ER trips were at 1072 last week).

As of July 4, Hillsborough’s average positive test rate over the last 14 days is at 20%. And while COVID-19-related hospital admissions are down 10% to an average of 56 per day, officials noted that coronavirus accounts for 361 intensive care patients. What’s more is that 88% of Hillsborough County’s ICU beds are filled—a 7% increase from last week.

Holt said ICU capacity was something the county needs to keep a close eye on.

Acting Mayor Ross (Temple Terrace) also asked ER physician Dr. Jason Wilson an anecdotal (“not political”) question about whether or not positive coronavirus tests can be tied to recent civil rights protests.

“I honestly have not identified a single patient coming from a demonstration, or self-identifying a demonstration as a place they think they were exposed. I don't know if that's because those are outdoor gatherings where people are moving quickly past each other,” Wilson said. “The science of this is really starting to coalesce around the idea of us being together in close proximity in a normal social type environment where there might be touching a lot of talking... intimacy, all those kinds of things I think are the things that are becoming the real way the virus spreads around.”

The next meeting of the EPG is on Monday July 13 at 1:30 p.m. EDT.

UPDATED: 07/07/20 10:45 a.m. Updated with Tuesday morning comment front the county. Past updates include analysis and comments from medical experts as well as more info on additional amendments to the order.

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Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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