Pasco rescinds mask order

The executive order requiring the use of face coverings in Pasco County was rescinded Monday afternoon, but its scope is limited to locations under the control of the county.

The Board of County Commissioners issued the face covering order in June 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the regulation relaxation, the lead sentence of the press release states that the county continues to recommend face coverings "in most indoor public places where social distancing cannot be maintained."

The press release also states that face coverings are still required on all Pasco County Public Transportation buses per Transportation and Security Administration requirements. "Additionally, the lifting of this order does not apply to entities outside the control of the Pasco Board of County Commissioners, including schools and courthouses."

Pasco County Schools transmitted a press release of its own about an hour after the county's announcement, stating that students, staff and visitors will still be required to wear face coverings when on campuses and in district offices "for the time being."

“I cannot in good conscience abandon our health and safety protocols at this time,” Kurt Browning, superintendent of Pasco Schools, is quoted as saying in the press release. “Our protocols have helped to prevent, and certainly reduce, the spread of COVID-19 among our students and staff.”

The press release goes on to state that students and staff have adapted well to the district's established protocols, which include the wearing of masks and social distancing when appropriate. It notes that the state of Florida remains under an emergency order until April 26, unless the order is extended again by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The county press release states that officials weighed several factors before deciding to rescind the executive order. These included lower COVID-19 hospitalization rates and increasing vaccination rates.

The release reports that Pasco County hospitalization rates for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms have been steadily dropping over the past several weeks, increasing the number of available hospital beds for anyone who needs them. Seventy percent of Pasco County residents 65 and older have been vaccinated and 57 percent of Pasco residents 50 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The school district's press release also states that the number of reported positive cases of COVID-19 among Pasco students and staff "has decreased significantly since January. "Though the district experienced an increase in March, which likely was related to spring break, the recent increases were well below the number of positive cases reported earlier in the year."