ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg community leaders are alarmed over a spike in new COVID-19 cases in South St. Pete. Three zip codes (33705, 33711, 33712) now account for more than 1,200 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Jarvis Spencer lives in South St. Pete in the zip code with the highest cases.
“It’s crazy. It’s real crazy and it’s sad,” he said.
Spencer has watched firsthand as COVID-19 impacted his neighbors and now it’s starting to impact his family.
“My family members caught it and I’m like ‘wooh, that’s real close’,” he elaborated.
City Council Member Deborah Figgs-Sanders represents a portion of those highest hit areas.
“I want to dispel the rumor that 'it won’t be me' because one day it just may be you especially if you’re living carelessly and not taking it seriously,” said Figgs-Sanders.
Figgs-Sanders is on a mission to help by passing out thousands of face masks Thursday night at the Lake Vista Recreation Center from 6-7:30 p.m. She plans to give out 3,000 and possibly expand to other locations.
“What seems like such a small effort will make such a huge impact to the health of our city,” she explained.
Numbers indicate that the Black community is contracting COVID-19 at rates up to four times higher than White individuals.
Figgs-Sanders believes lack of health insurance and a large number of people working in service industry jobs could be driving up the cases, alongside people not taking precautions seriously enough.
Community leaders Dr. Katurah Jenkins-Hall and Imam Askia Muhammed Aquil are also stepping up to help. They’re launching a new campaign called “Mask Up! St. Pete.” They’ll be handing out free masks Friday, July 3 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Cross and Anvil Human Services Center at 1201 7th Avenue South. They’ll also give out free t-shirts to anyone who commits to wearing a mask at all times in public.
“These high case numbers are not surprising, but it is upsetting. When America catches a cold, African Americans catch a flu and in this case it’s more than a flu of course. There has always been disparity in health in the African American community,” Jenkins-Hall said.
Between city, state and community leaders, groups plan to hand out 10,000 of masks across South St. Pete alone.
Expanding testing in high risk areas is another focus. Pinellas County leaders are looking at neighborhood test sites as well as major sites like the Mahaffey Theatre to meet demand.
“I want us to take care of each other,”’ Figgs Sanders added. “Even if you don’t take these precautions for yourself, I’m asking you do it for those around you.”
Organizers of Mask Up! St. Pete plan to cover a new community weekly “until our communities are saturated,” Jenkins-Hall added.