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Packed bars, COVID-19 case spike could lead to new rules in Pinellas County

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Posted at 6:20 PM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-18 18:37:56-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County leaders are considering new rules to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Soon, you could be forced to wear a mask anytime you enter an indoor business. The rule would also apply to any employee in a business who interacts with customers.

County leaders are looking at fines for anyone who enters a business and isn’t wearing a mask, but there would be exceptions for you to take off your mask once you sit down to eat or drink.

A vote on the new rule is expected on Tuesday, June 23. It’s similar to a mandate that begins Friday in St. Petersburg which will require all business employees in the city to wear a mask.

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It comes as Florida once again reaches a record high for positive COVID-19 cases reported in a single day — with more than 3,200 reported Wednesday.

Commissioner Ken Welch compared the situation to a hurricane barreling straight toward us and the need to make decisions now.

“We see the storm is coming. The data is telling us and compelling us with 1/3 of the cases in the last seven days, decreasing ICU hospital bed capacity and the coming storm of phase two and the protests, I think we need to act,” he elaborated.

Bars are also a big focus. County Administrator Barry Burton shared photos with ABC Action News which he says show the crowds packing onto a dance floor at the Ringside Cafe Bar in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday, June 13 at night.

County leaders are looking at capping bar capacity at 50 people. Pinellas County leaders are also urging business owners to restrict large crowds from gathering inside.

“The bar owners are the ones dropping the ball here because they are the ones not self-regulating. If they don’t want these restrictions, they can solve the problem. Some self-responsibility would go a long way,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told commissioners.

Marsha Goins, an employee at Rosie’s Tavern of Dunedin, said she supports the new potential rules.

“People aren’t really paying as much attention to it. We are all out of sight out of mind with it right now. People think it’s safe to go back into bars and party. We have to kind of bring it down a little bit. We have to be smart until this thing is way behind us,” she said.

County leaders are still working out the details on how the new rules could be enforced. The Pinellas County attorney and county administrator are working to draft any changes for Tuesday’s expected vote.