Hillsborough EPG Order Loophole: No Mask Necessary

July 9, 2020

By: Chris Ingram

TAMPA, Fla. – Watching the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group meetings and reading their resolutions has become comical in a longwinded, painful, getting ready to watch a train wreck in slow motion comedy kind of way. It really is not pretty. But it is refreshing to know that there is at least one member of the EPG who applies reason, logic, and common sense to every EPG vote and who provides faith in elected officials.

I will get to who that person is later, but first, here is a quick synopsis of the EPG history and its recent efforts.

The eight-person voting members consist of elected officials including three county commissioners, three mayors, the sheriff, and a member of the school board. The EPG is a part of the county charter, and it was established in order to better manage natural disasters through coordination between local governments in Hillsborough County.

The EPG is the county government authority that has mandated face mask use during the Covid-19 panic. The EPG was also the group which briefly instituted a local curfew that was highly criticized and quickly revoked after citizen outrage.

Following more citizen anger and at least one lawsuit, the EPG recently updated its controversial mask order (http://mediaweb.hillsboroughcounty.org/share/ah/July%206%20EPG%20Backup%20Documents/Redlined%20Executive%20Order%20-%20EPG%20-%20Face%20Coverings%20-%20Requested%20Revisions%20for%20Discussion.pdf) which previously held business owners liable for enforcing customers to wear masks. Unlike the old order, the new one removes criminal penalties from business owners for not enforcing mask compliance by their customers. This is a good thing of course, as no business owner should be criminally charged for a customer who defies what may otherwise be an unlawful (and certainly controversial) order itself.

The revised order further established exemptions to the rule, including children under the age of eight, anyone practicing social distancing, and anyone with a health condition which is complicated by wearing a mask.

The new order goes on to say you cannot be denied service or entry to a business if you have a health condition that is complicated by wearing a mask. The order reads, “…nor shall any business operator or employee deny such person admittance or service because he/she is not wearing a face covering;”

Of course, you will not hear the latter part in most media, because most media has bought hook, line, and sinker into the notion that 1) masks are effective 2) your rights don’t matter, and 3) big government knows best and people should not be permitted to make their own decisions.

The lone person on the board who consistently applies the aforementioned reason, logic, and common sense on every matter before the EPG, is Hillsborough School Board member, Melissa Snively.

I asked Snively if the order has any teeth, and she said, “There is a lot of wiggle room for the individual, but most importantly [the revised order] is less punitive for business owners.”

The wiggle room Snively refers to includes being exempt from wearing a mask if you are social distancing and the fact that anyone can claim to have a medical condition which prevents them from wearing a mask, and thus exempting themselves from wearing a face covering (no doctor’s order required). The EPG mask revision also prohibits (consistent with federal healthcare privacy laws) a business owner from asking you what your mask exempting health condition is.  So, in short, if you don’t want to wear a mask, you don’t have to, and you don’t have to be under eight years old to legally do so.

If your health is negatively affected by wearing a mask (it is), and it bothers you, you need not wear one. Remember, the order states no business owner in Hillsborough County has grounds to deny you service for not wearing one – but if you stand your ground and invoke your EPG given rights, expect to cause a scene and get into an argument with business owners and employees about this, because chances are they haven’t read the revised order, and the media is doing a terrible job of informing people of the issues outside its own preferred narrative.

“There is a lack of education about mask use by the public,” EPG member Snively said. “Every time I see a person in a car by themselves or on a bike outside wearing a mask, I realize we need to get better info out about proper use and appropriate need for a mask,” she added.

But remaining in the dark is exactly what the media and those power-hungry elected officials want. They want you ignorant, confused, and compliant. Just like a sheep. Facts and loopholes be damned! Wear a mask they say.

If Hillsborough (or any government) were serious about mask use, they would make said use a recommendation, not a fool hardy, loophole-filled trampling of the rights of the citizenry.

Afterall, you catch a lot more flies with sugar than vinegar, and you get a lot more compliance getting people to do things when you ask them to do something, versus telling them what to do, “or else.”

Chris Ingram is a Tampa communications, political and media consultant. Follow him on Twitter at @IrreverentView

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