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Pinellas Investigation Finds 40% Of Bars Not Complying With Mask Ordinance

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri speaks at a press conference
SCREENSHOT: Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says many people are under the impression that the mask ordinance has no teeth, but he warns that businesses can face fines for non-compliance.

County officials are urging businesses to follow mask orders, warning of fines and legal action as coronavirus cases reach dangerous heights.

Bars and restaurants have been blamed for a spike in coronavirus cases in the past. Pinellas County law enforcement investigated the situation again, with troubling results.

Deputies checked out 2,800 bars and restaurants the weekend of November 13th, including a Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

"Forty percent of the bars and eight percent of the restaurants were not in compliance," Gualtieri told a press conference Thursday.

Officers found workers not wearing masks, and people not social distancing.

Although no action was taken against these businesses, a Pinellas County ordinance does require people to wear masks in most indoor spaces.

Patrons and staff at restaurants must wear masks except when eating, groups must be smaller than 10, and tables must be six feet apart.

Standing around the bar, and gathering on dance floors, is prohibited.

"There are a lot of people under the impression that the county ordinance doesn't have any teeth because Governor DeSantis issued an order that fines and penalties are suspended. But there is a rest of the sentence," said Gualtieri.

Fines and penalties can still be imposed for businesses, the sheriff said.

The Sheriff’s Office is distributing signs for businesses to display, explaining the rules. After that, Gualtieri expects another investigation and possible action by deputies.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton warned that hospital beds are filling up, as he urged businesses to comply with social distancing and face-covering requirements.

"We need a renewed effort to go back to what we started, which is enforcing the use of masks and social distancing as much as reasonably possible," Burton said.

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
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