Faced with an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases, the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday passed an emergency ordinance requiring that citizens wear face coverings in most indoor public places, and restaurants and bars to implement new safety and anti-crowding measures. The ordinance passed 6-1, with Commissioner Kathleen Peters dissenting.
The countywide ordinance takes effect Wednesday, June 24, at 5 p.m., and will remain in effect through the duration of Pinellas County’s State of Local Emergency. The Board extended that declaration through July 3 and can continue to renew it on a weekly basis.
The ordinance defines a face covering as a material that covers the nose and mouth and remains affixed or a face shield. A cloth face covering, or mask, may be factory-made or sewn by hand and can be improvised from clothing or other household fabric items.
• Citizens must wear a face covering while in most indoor public places within Pinellas County, although the Board provided several exceptions. Among them:
o The mandate cannot conflict with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
o It does not apply if a person is strictly adhering to social distancing and there are 10 or fewer people in the location who are also maintaining social distancing.
o It does not apply to governmental entities such as schools, courthouses or city halls, although those entities are encouraged to develop procedures to protect employees and the public.
o If a person is under age 18, that person’s use of a face covering is left to the discretion of that person’s parent, guardian or an accompanying adult.
o Religious rituals such as various forms of singing are permitted provided that social distancing is strictly maintained.
o Exercising while social distancing, such as in a gym, is permitted without a face covering.
• Restaurant and bar staff must wear a face covering while on duty and while directly or indirectly preparing food or beverage, or serving food or beverage, or having customer contact, regardless of where the food or beverage is being prepared or whether the customers are inside or outside. Customers can remove their face coverings while dining or consuming a beverage when seated and social distancing.
• Restaurants and bars must position chairs and tables so that parties of one or more are separated by six feet and patrons are not standing at the bar or congregating in any area.
• Retail employees must wear face coverings unless working in an area of the business that is not open to the customers and has social distancing measures in place.
Carefully weighed decision
The Board made its decision based on COVID-19 trending data, the advice of the County’s leading public health officials, and CDC guidance. Through the Zoom virtual meeting platform, the Board also took several hours of public comment.
Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, pointed out that the county’s rolling 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases is up to 219 per day, with a positive test rate of about 12 percent, whereas the positivity rate was only 1 to 2 percent five weeks ago. Dr. Angus Jameson, medical director for Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services, noted that COVID-19 cases in the greater Tampa Bay area have increased from about 125 per day three weeks ago to about 1,000 cases a day, raising concerns that COVID-19 will continue to spread exponentially and overwhelm the healthcare system.
The Board elected to adopt the emergency order by ordinance to allow it to be enforced as a non-criminal local ordinance violation, in addition to other enforcement remedies. Remedies include:
• A warning.
• A non-criminal ordinance violation citation that levies a fine.
• Injunctive relief through a complaint filed in Circuit Court.
• Misdemeanor arrest or a Notice to Appear for Repeat Violations.