In a release on April 13, Pinellas County acknowledged that COVID-19 cases, positive tests and hospitalizations are escalating in county. However, the Board of County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on May 11 to possibly amend or repeal the face mask ordinance.
“After a thoughtful discussion that included hours of public comment, the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to schedule a public hearing for May 11 to consider repealing or amending the county ordinance requiring face coverings inside public places and certain restrictions in bars and restaurants,” the release stated.
While commissioners wrestle with whether or not to extend mask requirements still highly recommended by the CDC, they have extended the COVID-19 State of Local Emergency declaration through April 23, which allows the county to take advantage of FEMA reimbursements for COVID-related expenses.
The county currently spends about $1.3 million a month on vaccination and testing sites, according to the release.
The county reported that “dozens of residents” appealed to the board on Tuesday, April 13, mostly speaking to oppose the face covering requirements, as well as numerous emails both for and against the ordinance.
Florida Department of Health in Pinellas Director Dr. Ulyee Choe urged the county to keep mask and social distancing requirements in effect. Dr. Choe reports that rolling seven-day averages for COVID-19 cases and positive test rates have risen over the last month and are currently at 259 and 6.8 percent, respectively. Hospitalizations have also risen.
“Studies continue to show the efficacy of masks, and most scientific and medical experts continue to recommend them as an important tool for slowing the virus’ spread,” Dr. Choe reported.
The CDC urges people to wear masks in public settings, events and gatherings, and “anywhere they will be around other people.” Since February 2, 2021, masks are required on “planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.”
The May 11 public hearing on face coverings will take place during the board’s regular in-person/virtual meeting. Commissioners could “repeal all or part of the ordinance, amend it, or keep the full ordinance in effect.”
Find information about how to attend the meeting, either virtually or in-person, here. A link will be available closer to the meeting date.
Cases on the Rise, But So Are Vaccinations
In Pinellas County, 43 percent of adults have at least one COVID shot, and 27 percent are fully vaccinated (two shots for Pfizer and Moderna; one for Johnson & Johnson). According to Dr. Choe, current modeling shows that half of Pinellas adults could be vaccinated by mid-May.
In addition to federal-, state- and county-run sites, as well as Publix and CVS vaccination locations, County Administrator Burton noted that more vaccine distributors, such as Walgreens and Costco, are “just now coming on board, expanding the opportunity for residents 16 and over to receive the vaccine if they want it.”
Burton expected that many more people will be vaccinated by May 11, which could factor into the board’s decision on face coverings.