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St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Ken Welch cancels inauguration ceremony after positive COVID test

Man stands at podium with people around him
Octavio Jones
WUSF Public Media
Mayor-Elect Ken Welch gives his victory speech becoming the first African-American Mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

Welch, who is St. Pete's first African American mayor, will be sworn in from home.

St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Ken Welch tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and will quarantine at home for the next five days.

Though Welch said his symptoms are not serious, the diagnosis means he will have to cancel his inauguration ceremony scheduled for Thursday at City Hall.

Welch, who is St. Pete's first African American mayor, will be sworn in virtually from home on Thursday. He plans to provide a short speech.

In a Zoom call with the media on Tuesday, Welch told reporters he's "still functioning" and that his symptoms feel like those of a regular cold.

Welch was vaccinated and received a booster in November. He tested positive with a home kit on Monday morning and a PCR test later in the day confirmed the diagnosis.

He said his two adult daughters are sick as well, but the whole family is distancing from others.

Welch said his symptoms prove the science works.

"This shows how we live with this disease is to get vaccinated. Get the booster," Welch said. "And then when you do come in contact with this you will be able to manage it and hopefully not have to be hospitalized."

Still, Welch — a St. Petersburg native — said the significance of the moment does not go away.

"In the relative scheme of things, us having to cancel this inauguration ... obviously it's something we wish we could've done," Welch said. "But the folks that have worked so hard for this to be possible, they would be the first ones to say that it's not about the celebration, it's about the work that happens after that."

Welch will work from home until he is cleared from isolation and plans to begin working from City Hall on Jan. 10.

In a statement following his announcement on Monday, Welch said his positive test should "serve as a reminder" for residents to get vaccinated and follow CDC guidelines.

“While this is disappointing, I am incredibly thankful that my current symptoms are not serious, and I keep in my thoughts and prayers all the families who have lost so much more to this pandemic," Welch said.

"Though we will not be able to celebrate in person, let us keep front of mind the significance of the day — the day that we begin a journey together, as one community in one city, toward inclusive progress. We will have much more to celebrate together in the years to come.”

Welch said a public celebration recognizing his election will be held at a later date.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
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