During one of his weekly Facebook Lives in early July, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman made a solemn pronouncement.
“I do think if the data we see in the next week or two shows us the mask mandate is not working, we’re going to end up having to take some additional actions,” he told viewers.
His concern was valid. On the day of his address, the number of Covid-19 patients in Pinellas County hospital intensive care units was the highest it had ever been. The percentage of people testing positive for the virus had topped 16 percent the previous week. And death counts were on the rise.
Fast forward to late August, and Kriseman is tweeting a happier tune:
COVID update: 3.1% positive in our county overnight data. Rolling average for past two weeks is 3.3%.
— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) August 31, 2020
With the numbers continuing to improve after months of social distancing and mask regulations, people in Pinellas County have good reason to feel like things are moving in the right direction. And while Kriseman has “a lot of faith” in local residents and said he’s impressed by the number of people complying with the city’s mask requirements, he cautions people against letting their guard down.
“We simply can’t get complacent until we learn more,” Kriseman wrote in an email to The Catalyst.
The city has fined more than 100 businesses for not complying with the city’s mask order, though Kriseman said they’re receiving fewer calls about businesses not playing by the rules.
“Citations are down,” he said. “We’ve seen much better compliance as time has gone on.”
That compliance – by both businesses and individuals – could potentially be tested over the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend. Tom Iovino, public information officer for the Pinellas County Health Department, said that numbers of Covid-19 cases spiked after both the Memorial Day and July 4 holidays. Residents must continue to be vigilant or risk seeing the same thing happen again, he said.
“This isn’t the way we envisioned Labor Day 2020 to go,” he said. “But we’re relying on people to continue taking preventative steps and stay aware. We don’t want another flare up.”
A spike in cases won’t show up right away, Iovino said. The virus would need time to incubate and cause symptoms that could lead to people going to get tested.
“Once we get through September 14 and September 21, we’ll see if people have taken things seriously,” he said. “We’ll see if they were following the rules.”
Kriseman said the city will continue responding to real-time complaints related to the mask ordinance and restaurant occupancy, and will be proactively monitoring establishments around the city to ensure they’re in compliance. Those who aren’t will face consequences.
“What has separated St. Pete from other places is we’re not afraid to enforce violations,” Kriseman said.
Both Kriseman and Iovino agree that residents can do their part to limit the spread this weekend – and in the future – by continuing to social distance, wear masks, wash hands and lead by example.
“It’s really about leadership. I need to bang the drum every day,” Kriseman said. “Residents also need to be leaders and remind others to do the right thing.”
Iovino said he recognizes that people have grown fatigued from dealing with the virus for nearly six months, but urged people to keep their eye on the prize.
“The more we can do now, the more likely we can get back to normal,” he said.