The Pinellas County sheriff is doubling down on calls for bars and restaurants to obey mask and social distancing rules. It comes as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri tells ABC Action News that too many businesses are letting the rules slide, thereby putting all of us in danger.
In November, deputies visited 2,800 bars and restaurants. They say 40% of bars and 8% of restaurants were caught breaking the rules. The sheriff showed pictures of people packed at bar stools, not wearing masks and tables less than 6 feet apart.
Many of the bar and restaurant owners tell ABC Action News they're trying to do the right thing and didn't know that the sheriff found them in violation of mask rules until photos of their businesses were shown at a press conference Thursday. Some are now taking to social media to explain how they plan to keep patrons safe.
It comes as new COVID-19 cases in Pinellas County have tripled in the past month, according to county administrator Barry Burton.
Sheriff Gualtieri says fines are a last resort, but if need be, they will issue them. A first-time fine will cost businesses $100, $250 for a second violation and $500 for a third.
Gualtieri says unannounced business checks will continue — and he’s warning all bars and restaurants to step up for safety.
You can also expect to see more signs at Pinellas County businesses reminding you about the countywide mask ordinance. Deputies posted hundreds of blue warning signs outside bars and restaurants countywide on Friday.
Gualtieri and Burton held a Facebook live event Friday to answer questions about the renewed effort.
Business owners are working to strongly enforce social distancing and mask mandates tell ABC Action News they're happy about the enforcement saying there has been a lot of confusion recently about the rules.
Tina Marie Avila, owner of Casa Tina and Pan Y Vino, says she is constantly working to get customers to comply.
“We’re pleading with people please, please, please do your part so the economy can continue and businesses can continue," she said.
Avila says she’s serious about enforcing the rules knowing her businesses may not survive another lockdown.
“It would be really really horrible for us because we went through a lot of our savings during the last shut down," she elaborated.
Marsha Goins at Rosie's Taven of Dunedin agrees.
“It’s frustrating. It’s like come on. We’re all in this together," Goins said.