In the face of unrelenting forward motion toward reopening from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Wednesday that the City of St. Petersburg would take efforts to curb the current COVID-19 spike in cases into its own hands, breaking from the state and Pinellas County.
Kriseman announced that the employees of all St. Petersburg businesses would be required to wear masks while in areas of the business open to the public. The order is intended for all businesses, including restaurants, bars, gyms, retail establishments, salons and barbershops. It goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday (June 19).
The mayor also announced that alongside enforced capacity limits and social distancing requirements, businesses would be required to create and post a specific COVID-19 mitigation plan, which identifies contact points for possible exposure and spread and how those risks are being addressed.
He said the ordinance would be enforced and violations would not be taken lightly. He also indicated that official warnings would not be given.
As of Wednesday there were 1,314 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city of St. Petersburg, according to the Florida Department of Health – up 71 percent from one week ago and up 160 percent from June 1.
During the press conference, held via Facebook Live, Kriseman criticized DeSantis, who attributed the spike in cases to increased testing and outbreaks in long term care facilities and detention centers. “While he’s right that more testing has occurred, he’s wrong that this is what’s causing the surge,” Kriseman said. “Simple math tells us that.”
“St. Pete’s community spread is largely due to young adults letting their guard down,” Kriseman said. “The data and the many closures of our downtown bars and restaurants paint a clear picture for us.”
Over the last week, numerous bars and restaurants have shut down due to COVID-19 exposure of patrons and staff. The Avenue, Park & Rec, The Galley, Jannus Landing, Jannus Live and others have temporarily closed due to the virus.
Last week, Kriseman announced that the largest demographic group of COVID-19 cases is now Millennials, ages 25-34, a trend that has held this week as well.
“Restarting St. Pete doesn’t get us back to normal or business as usual, it gets us back to a new normal that may exist for many months, if not years.”
Kriseman cited the numbers from his update just a week prior on June 8, in which Pinellas County received 2,469 rest results, with just a 1.8 percent positivity rate, 45 confirmed cases. On June 16, Pinellas County received 1,918 tests, yielding a 6.6 percent positivity rate, with 136 confirmed cases.
“More tests doesn’t necessarily equate to more positives, Mr. Governor,” Kriseman said. “More positives equate to more positives.”
Kriseman explained that while the two-week trend in Pinellas County percent positive cases is still under 5 percent, it is headed in the wrong direction. In order to keep it below 5 percent, Kriseman said, “mask usage in St. Pete must increase.”
Kriseman also explained that the city legal staff is in the process of drafting an ordinance that would require patrons to wear masks when inside businesses or other indoor areas when in contact with other members of the public, except for residences. Kriseman said that he does not plan to enact the order prior to the coming weekend, in order to give citizens and businesses a chance to prepare.
He urged businesses to require masks independently, much like they require shoes and shirts for service.
Kriseman also explained that both ordinances would have common sense exceptions for employees and patrons with medical concerns, and that patrons of restaurants and bars would be allowed to remove masks when seated at a table to eat or drink.