After hours of public comment, Pinellas County extends its local emergency, leaving mask mandate in place

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After hours of public comment Tuesday, the Pinellas County Commission voted unanimously to extend the county’s local coronavirus emergency.

The county’s rule requiring face coverings in public remains in place.

Dozens of residents weighed in on both sides of the mask issue.

Largo resident Virginia Frizzle wants the mask mandate to end and accused the doctors who spoke during public comment of being partisan.

“Make [it] a choice. It’s not that we are against keeping people healthy. We are healthy people. And masks are for sick people. We can listen to the right news or we can listen to the left news. We can listen to the right doctors, or we can listen to the Democrat doctors. Everything is separated — everything.

“And now we walk into stores, we get policed. I even go to the tag office, and I tell him I have a medical [exemption]. They tell me I can’t go in. You were supposed to educate. Where are the hygiene signs everywhere, like you did with H1N1? Nowhere! You don’t care. You just want to keep us shut up with masks on.”

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Public comment continued for several hours. After about one hour, twelve people had urged commissioners to continue the mask mandate and 22 people wanted them to end the mandate. At that time there were still 47 people still waiting to speak.

Dr. Linsey Grove is a public health practitioner on the faculty of the USF College of Public Health. She’s also president of the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area.

“The reason we’re seeing drops in COVID-19 cases in Pinellas and in other places is because they require mask-wearing and other public health measures. In towns where communities stopped or reduced mask-wearing, COVID-19 cases increased and caused shutdowns, as well as unnecessary illness and death.

“Mask-wearing puts customers and clients at ease when they’re engaging with a business. This is crucial if we want to make a full economic recovery.

“To stop the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown folks, health care workers and the elderly, we know that consistent widespread mask-wearing is necessary.

“On behalf of the League of Women Voters of the St Petersburg Area, and as a public health practitioner, I ask you to keep the local state of emergency in place and continue to listen to medical and public health professionals.”

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Next week, commissioners will hear from hospital leaders and may decide on whether to schedule a vote in October on whether to extend the Pinellas mask requirement.

On Wednesday the CDC Director told the U.S. Senate masks offer more protection against COVID-19 than a vaccine. Dr. Robert Redfield said face coverings are America’s best defense against the spread of the coronavirus. Dr. Redfield said that if everyone in the country wore a mask the pandemic could be brought “under control” in 12 weeks or less.

Florida added more than 3,200 coronavirus cases over the last day and another 147 deaths. It was the fourth day in a row where the weekly average for number of infections in Florida increased.

Watch the meeting here: