Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the county’s top law enforcement official and a prominent national voice on crime and public safety, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Gualtieri, 58, is experiencing “mild” symptoms of COVID-19, including losing his sense of smell and taste, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday. He had no fever or breathing issues.
“Doing fine. Thanks,” he texted a Tampa Bay Times reporter when asked about his condition Saturday. He did not respond to a phone call or text questions about how he might have contracted the virus.
He will stay at home for 10 days, working remotely, the agency said. The sheriff oversees an office of more than 2,800 employees.
No other Sheriff’s Office staffers need to “quarantine,” according to an agency spokeswoman, and “no additional measures are necessary based on the Sheriff’s activities in the applicable period leading up to his positive test.”
Gualtieri was in touch with contact tracers at the Florida Department of Health, the spokeswoman said. She said sheriff’s personnel have practiced “appropriate social distancing” in all meetings, and “people are either more than six feet apart and/or wearing masks or the meetings are accomplished electronically.”
His official calendar showed the sheriff had meetings scheduled every day of the week before his positive test, but it was unclear which were held in person.
On Aug. 8, six days before his positive result, the sheriff spoke at a news conference after a St. Petersburg police officer fatally shot a man accused of attacking her.
The Sheriff’s Office said Gualtieri “tested positive on Friday.” The spokeswoman did not respond to a question about whether Friday was when the test was taken or when the results became available.
In June, an outbreak at the Pinellas County Jail led to 18 cases among staff and inmates in 24 hours.
Gualtieri called the outbreak a “big problem” at the time and said the agency would “have to make significant changes.” The agency scaled back misdemeanor arrests and directed staff at the jail to wear cloth or surgical masks at all times.
The office says it suggests deputies follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which encourage wearing masks in all public settings. Staff are also required to follow any local mask ordinances.
There is growing evidence that the virus can linger in the air inside buildings and spread beyond six feet.
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After a statewide Florida Sheriffs Association conference in July, five attendees tested positive for the virus, even though the association said guests “exceeded” necessary precautions. Gualtieri was not one of them, although he attended.
Gualtieri is married to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Lauralee Westine, who is assigned to family court in Pasco County. The two have a high school-aged daughter and live in a house in East Lake.
The man, named Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriffs’ Association in 2019, has emerged as a prominent and influential figure in American law enforcement. He was serving as chief deputy and general counsel when then-Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to lead the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in 2011. The Republican won elections in 2012 and 2016 and is running for re-election this year.
Gualtieri made national headlines in 2018 when he said Florida’s stand your ground law precluded him from arresting a white man who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton, a young Black father, during an argument over a Clearwater handicap parking space. Prosecutors took the case to trial, and the shooter was convicted and sentenced to prison.
The sheriff has also influenced state and national policy. He has called for local law enforcement to work more closely with immigration officials when they detain undocumented people, and he helped craft Florida’s ban on sanctuary cities.
Gualtieri also pushed to allow school employees to carry guns as the chair of a school safety commission formed after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
In June, he was on hand at the White House as President Donald Trump signed an executive order to track use-of-force complaints against law enforcement officers, less than a month after George Floyd was killed by an officer in Minneapolis.
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