PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – 8 On Your Side got answers Tuesday to questions that a lot of people living in Pinellas County have regarding beaches, mandatory masks and curfews.
Tuesday morning Pinellas County Bureau Reporter Christine McLarty had a Zoom meeting with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and County Administrator Barry Burton to answer some of the most pressing questions.
“We want out of this as soon as everybody else but we want to make sure we’re safe,” said Burton. “We don’t want to drag this out longer than necessary by causing community spread that would continue this to go throughout our community.”
A video of the entire 15-minute discussion is at the end of this article. Keep reading for a re-cap of the 3 main topics discussed: beach closures, curfews, and mandatory masks.
Pinellas County Commissioners will vote Thursday if they will re-open the beaches this weekend for partial use so people can exercise and walk the shore.
County commissioners talked about the idea during a meeting Monday. Tuesday Sheriff Gualtieri said he is against the idea and it would be very difficult to regulate.
He went on to say, “I think we maintain the status quo, especially because we haven’t hit the peak with anything. We haven’t hit the peace of cases, we haven’t hit the peak of deaths, and we haven’t hit the peak in ICU beds. Let’s maintain this course until the end of the month.”
Sheriff Gualtieri compared partially opening the beaches now to taking half a bottle of Penicillin. He said if we cut the beach closures short and don’t stick with it through the entire pandemic, then we could experience a more intense resurgence and a worse situation than where we once started.
“We’re only 10 days, think about that, only 10 days into the statewide safer-at-home order,” said Sheriff Gualtieri. “That’s not a long period of time.”
8 On Your Side spoke to many at Indian Rocks Beach with differing opinions on opposite sides of the beach battle. “I think it would be a good thing [to re-open the beaches],” said Pinellas Co. resident Maggie Velez. “I think it would be good for people to get out and not be so cooped up. They could still be in a safe environment.”
Others disagree. “I think they need to be shut down longer,” said self-proclaimed snowbird Diane Wolfe. “I don’t think this thing has reached the point where we can start opening things.” She continued “It’s just…it’s very scary.”
As of now the Pinellas County beaches remain closed. The Pinellas County Commissioners will vote Thursday about any potential changes.
Neighboring Hillsborough County implemented a mandatory curfew on Monday. When 8 On Your Side spoke with the sheriff and county administrator Tuesday morning, they said Pinellas County is not considering a curfew at this time.
“That’s not something we’re currently looking at because we don’t have those types of issues in large numbers,” said Burton. He continued “We’re able to deal with the issues we have. People are acting responsibly and so long as that continues there is no need to go towards that discussion [of a mandatory curfew],”.
As of Tuesday morning, Pinellas County is not considering requiring residents to wear mandatory masks. The sheriff said he does not want people wearing face covers to give them a false sense of security. Sheriff Gualtieri added that most people don’t have N95 masks, which are the only masks that can truly protect you from getting the virus.
The sheriff said many items people use like bandanas, t-shirts and surgical masks are mainly keeping them from spreading the virus, not from contracting it themselves.
Watch the full 15-minute discussion with the sheriff and county administrator below for more details on the latest about COVID-19 policies in Pinellas County.
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