Pinellas County leaders not afraid to fine bars, restaurants violating mask policies

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CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Pinellas County Sheriff and County Administrator are hosting an event Friday about a new effort to mask up in bars and restaurants, and they said they aren’t afraid to fine businesses if need be.

Friday morning Pinellas County Bureau Reporter Christine McLarty went to a COVID testing site in Clearwater that is amping up efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus

This is the first week that the Ruth Eckerd Hall COVID testing site expanded their free drive-through site from three to five days a week to keep up with the high testing demand. Now, county leaders are calling on business owners to do their part.

“We need businesses again to help us help you. To help the community so we are asking for the business owners especially the bar and restaurant owners to step up,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri during a press conference Thursday.

County leaders said over the past month, the percentage of people testing positive has doubled and new cases per day have tripled. They’re concerned about the rapid spread of COVID threatening hospital capacity and vulnerable residents.

The sheriff said deputies recently found 40% of bars to be in violation of the mask ordinance and 8% of restaurants to be in violation.

Now they’re placing new signs at businesses reported to be consistent violators to remind staff and patrons to mask-up.

Under the county ordinance, each business can be fined up to 500 dollars. Something the sheriff said he hopes they won’t have to do.

“I’m going to tell you that if we find some businesses that aren’t trying to do the right thing, they are just ignoring it, they are just defiant and they are just saying ‘The heck with it, I am not going to do it I don’t care…’ then they are going to force us and if they force us to do it, then we will start taking action because we can’t keep going down this path,” said Gualtieri.

County leaders are holding a Facebook Live at 11 a.m. Friday to answer questions about the new countywide compliance effort.

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