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With COVID-19 cases reaching levels not seen since the summer, Pinellas County leaders are urging businesses and residents to follow local protocols requiring face coverings at indoor public places and social distancing.
Over the past month, new cases per day have tripled and the percentage of people testing positive has doubled, reaching 8.4 percent on November 29 compared to 4.2 percent on October 30. Patients on ventilators have also nearly doubled in that time, from 32 to 57. Increases in deaths typically lag one to two weeks behind increases in new cases.
The County’s local ordinance remains in place, but an increasing number of people ignoring the mask rule at bars and other businesses, combined with flu season and holiday gatherings, are expected to cause a further spike in cases through the end of the year.
The Sheriff’s Office is placing new signage at local businesses to remind staff and patrons of the protocol and will follow up at those businesses reported to be consistently violating the ordinance.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry A. Burton and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri were joined by County Commission Chair Pat Gerard, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard at a Thursday news conference to underscore a new countywide push for stronger compliance.
“We want to stay open and we want to stay safe. We want our businesses to thrive and we want to help them in doing these simple measures to keep everybody safe so we can continue to operate just as we are,” Burton said.
Deputies recently traveled around the county and found 40 percent of bars and 8 percent of restaurants in violation of the ordinance, including staff not wearing masks, Sheriff Gualtieri said.
“These things are required by law. Wearing a mask is not fun, but the alternative is worse,” he said. “Fines and penalties are not suspended for businesses, so if we have to go down that path, we can. We don’t want to. We need the businesses, again, to help us help you – to help the community,” he said.
Continuing to mask up in public and practice social distancing is the only option for eliminating the virus, protecting people and keeping businesses open until a vaccine is widely available, which isn’t expected until next year, according to federal health officials.
Face masks have been proven effective in reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases, both in the Tampa Bay area and nationwide.
Burton and Gualtieri are hosting a Facebook Live Event on Friday, Dec. 4, at 11 a.m. to answer questions about the new countywide compliance effort.
Pinellas County has also extended its State of Local Emergency for COVID-19 through December 11. The extension was issued by County Administrator Barry A. Burton by delegated authority from the Board of County Commissioners.The extension keeps in effect a County ordinance requiring face coverings within public places, and restaurants and bars to serve only patrons who are seated. Public health officials continue to closely monitor the 7-day rolling averages for new COVID-19 cases, percentage of positive tests, hospitalizations and hospital bed capacity.
For the latest information on Pinellas County’s COVID-19 response, visit https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/.