CLEARWATER — The Clearwater City Council let the Pinellas County Commission know Sept. 17 that it has its back on the mandate requiring face masks in indoor places.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to decline, the County Commission is facing increasing pressure to lift its ordinance. Earlier in the day, commissioners listened to about three hours of public comment from about 80 citizens who wanted to weigh in on the issue. About half of those citizens urged the commission to end the mandate.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said he listened to the meeting and began to wonder if the city would institute its own order if the county decides to end its mandate.
He said he preferred countywide regulations, however, because the consistency makes it easier for citizens to follow.
“I don’t think anybody can argue that since the face masks have been in place and people have really been escalating protocols and being more responsible, that we have seen numbers plummet,” he said. “I want to see those numbers stay down there.”
Hibbard asked council members if they shared his view and if they would be willing to share the council’s position now rather than after county commissioners decide to vote on it.
“I think we ought to continue to be using the face masks for everyone’s safety, and I would like to send that message to the County Commission before they take this issue back up again,” he said.
Council member Hoyt Hamilton, who owns and operates the Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Beach, said one or two people at the restaurant refuse to wear a mask and are turned away almost every night.
“I understand,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of the mask. It fogs my glasses up every time I put it on, but we’ve been down this road long enough where I think most people are getting very accustomed to having the mask, wearing it and it not being a problem. And until we’ve absolutely licked this thing, I have no problem with continuing with the mask.”
Division Chief and Emergency Management Director Jevon Graham said the inconvenience of wearing masks is a small price to pay for the big difference they are making.
“They truly are helping,” he said. “They are helping prevent the spread and especially if people wear them appropriately.”
Each member voiced support for throwing the council’s weight behind the county and its mandate.
“It comes down to me with one simple fact and that’s be courteous to your neighbor,” Vice Mayor David Allbritton said. “That’s what it’s about. The mask isn’t for you. Nobody likes wearing a mask.”
Hibbard thanked the council members for sharing their support, which he said should help the commission in its future decision-making.
“I think it will be helpful for the County Commission to have the unanimous support of the Clearwater City Council when they have these meetings because they’re getting some pretty visceral responses from some people,” he said. “And I think it gives them a little bit more cover and support.”