Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed an executive order lifting all local COVID-19 restrictions and mandates on individuals and businesses.
As a result, Hillsborough County, Pasco County and the city of Tampa have dropped their mask requirements.
The order, however, does not apply to school districts — and both Pasco County Schools and Hillsborough County Schools will keep their mask orders and other safety protocols in place until the end of the school year.
Private businesses are not subject to the governor’s order, either, meaning they can keep their COVID-19 restrictions — and at this point, many continue to require masks, limit indoor seating and follow other safety measures.
Increased traffic on area roads and more cars in retail and restaurant parking lots, however, provide clear indications that more people are getting out and about.
Air travel is up — way up.
The Transportation Security Administration reported there were 1.7 million travelers at its checkpoints on May 9, compared to 200,815 on the same day last year. However, the number of air travelers is still substantially lower than it was in 2019, when there were 2.4 million air passengers on the same day.
Many travelers — now fully vaccinated — were flying to see family for the first time since the pandemic began. Televised news reports captured emotional reunions of moms and their kids, on Mother’s Day, all over the country.
Travel experts also are advising those wishing to take summer vacations to plan early to ensure accommodations and rental cars are available.
In another sign that things are changing, more graduation ceremonies are being held live — not virtually — this year.
In addition to some area college graduation celebrations, Pasco public schools will hold in-person events again this year, scaled back as they were last year. Hillsborough public school students also will be celebrating at live events, as well.
The Diocese of Saint Petersburg also has announced that the general obligation to attend Sunday Mass will resume on May 22.
Bishop Gregory Parkes, who leads the diocese, had granted a dispensation from the obligation as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.
Although Catholic churches have been holding services, with mask requirements and social distancing protocols in place, many parishioners opted instead to watch services remotely.
Health experts continue to caution the public to be careful because at the same time COVID-19 restrictions are being relaxed or lifted, the demand for vaccinations has been dropping.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of May 9, 152 million individuals had received at least one dose of vaccine, including 83.6% of those age 65 and older. Of those in that age group, 71.3% were fully vaccinated.
If you are fully vaccinated, the CDC says you can start doing many things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.
When choosing safer activities, consider how COVID-19 is spreading in your community, the number of people participating in the activity, and the location.
Keep in mind that outdoor visits and activities are safer than indoor activities, and fully vaccinated people can participate in some indoor events safely, without much risk.
The CDC also notes: “While more than eight in 10 people 65 years and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, only around 1 in 3 people ages 18 to 29 have. All age groups currently eligible for the vaccine can benefit from the protection it provides themselves and others, especially as more states are easing prevention measures.”
As the pace of vaccination slows, vaccination persuasion campaigns are on the rise.
Celebrities, politicians and faith leaders are among those urging others to get vaccinated. Some efforts, as reported nationally, involve people making door-to-door visits to encourage people to get a single shot of Johnson & Johnson, or two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
Sites run by Hillsborough County dispense only the Pfizer vaccine, which can be given to individuals 16 years of age and older. Those ages 16 and 17 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, a county news release says.
Efforts by Pfizer could lower the eligible age for its vaccine to 12, if the Food and Drug Administration approves its request for authorization — which could occur as early as this week, according to national reports.
Those seeking vaccinations should know there is no out-of-pocket cost to be vaccinated and no prescription or doctor’s note is required, a Hillsborough County news release says.
With demand continuing to decline at the large public COVID-19 vaccination sites, Hillsborough County Emergency Management is reassessing distribution strategies and developing other options for residents to get vaccinated. Companies, community organizations, and faith-based organizations interested in an on-site targeted vaccine event are encouraged to call 888-513-6321, or email .
Published May 12, 2021