BRANDON, Fla. — Hillsborough County’s Emergency Policy Group voted to extend its mandate requiring masks be worn in county businesses by one week. Changes could be coming to how the requirement is enforced.
“If, in fact, wearing these masks will slow down significantly the rate of spread of the disease, and if, in fact, the data shows that, then I’m in favor of us wearing the masks,” said Brandon Crossroads Bowl Owner Jeff Boje. “I’m just not in favor of placing my employees in a very potentially dangerous and hostile situation.”
Currently, the order says business operators are responsible for either refusing to admit customers who aren’t wearing masks or to require or compel the removal of people not complying. The order defines “business operator” as “any individual that controls the operation of an indoor location of a business, regardless of the formal title or role held by that individual or entity.”
Violations are considered second-degree misdemeanors punishable by up to $500 in fines and possible jail time.
“I think it’s worse than unfair. I think it’s somewhat immoral. We’re not policemen,” said Boje. “Our employees are everyday citizens trying to put food on their table and make ends meet in this world.”
On Monday morning, all patrons inside the bowling alley were wearing masks, but that didn’t mean they were all happy about it.
“I’m a retired United States Army soldier. I have been in many foreign countries defending the Constitution of the United States. I am one, personally, that thinks this whole requiring me to do this violates my right of freedom of choice,” said Jeffrey Olsen, secretary of the Golden Agers senior bowling league.
When asked why he wore a mask despite those feelings, Olsen said it was because the onus of enforcing the requirement falls on owners like Boje.
“He’s not a police officer and shouldn’t be in charge of enforcement responsibilities. I don’t want to get them in trouble,” said Olsen.
Boje said not all customers have felt the same.
“We already had one really pretty minor incident of a guy getting angry, breaking a pool stick over his knee, and tossing it towards a bartender,” Boje said.
EPG member and Hillsborough County School Board Chair Melissa Snively brought up the topic of making changes to the section of the order that deals with enforcement. She asked about possible alternatives to “criminalizing” business owners. Suggestions brought up during the meeting included having code officials enforce the order through citations and shifting some responsibility to the individuals not wearing masks.
Members asked the county attorney to draft changes to be discussed at the July 6 EPG meeting.