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'We have to do something': Leaders weigh mandatory mask orders as COVID-19 cases spike in Tampa Bay

If cases drastically increase, chairmembers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties say reopening won't be scaled back, but making masks mandatory is the alternative.

TAMPA, Fla. — Almost two weeks into Florida's Phase Two of reopening, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are seeing another increase in coronavirus cases.

"We did kind of expect that some of the cases would go up as the social distancing guidelines were dropped, but they're going up a little fast," said Dr. Jill Roberts with the University of USF Public Health.

Hillsborough County leads the Tampa Bay area with more than 3,700 positive COVID-19 cases reported. Pinellas is close behind with more than 2,300 cases.

"It's the younger people that aren't really paying attention. They have kind of forgotten about it, they want to move on," Pinellas Chair Pat Gerard said. 

Gerard says their newest dilemma is getting younger generations to listen to the guidelines they've put out since February. Everyone should be washing their hands, following social distancing and wearing a mask. Even epidemiologists say that's the only way to stop the spread.

"This is everybody's goal, everyone needs to wear that mask." Roberts said.

RELATED: Don't want to wear a face covering on a flight? You could be banned from flying

Officials are racking their brains trying to find a way to get people to listen, weighing whether a mandatory mask order is necessary.

"I feel that we need it. If I had my way, this is Les Miller talking, if I had my way, I would do what they're doing in Boston. But we just haven't been able to do it down here," Hillsborough Chair Les Miller said.

New data paints a grim picture for Hillsborough County. Within the next few weeks, infectious disease experts say we could see more than 13,000 cases reported in a single day.

"That's what the model said, and that's terrifying. We don't want to be there. The way we prevent that is to wear masks, wash our hands and we should really careful about places with large numbers of individuals," Roberts said.

If cases drastically increase, both county chairs say reopening won't be scaled back, but making masks mandatory is the alternative.

"We don't want to go there, but if you make us go there we will. To keep us from killing each other, we have to do something," Gerard said.

RELATED: PSTA now requires all passengers to wear a face covering

RELATED: Epidemiologist says data can be misleading and coronavirus is spreading in Florida

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