As Florida coronavirus cases spike, downtown St. Petersburg sees impact

Three bars close and others show caution.
Overview of The Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg  on Saturday.
Overview of The Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published June 13, 2020|Updated June 14, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG ― Florida coronavirus cases jumped by 2,581 on Saturday as three downtown St. Petersburg bars closed after staffers tested positive for COVID-19.

The Galley at 27 Fourth St. N, Park & Rec DTSP at 100 Fourth St. S and the Avenue Eat + Drink at 330 First Ave. S announced Friday night in Facebook messages that they were temporarily closing.

“Earlier this afternoon, we at The Galley learned that a few of our staffers have tested positive for COVID-19. All those exhibiting any symptoms were told to immediately see a doctor and obtain a test," read the Galley’s post. “We have quarantined those staffers for the recommended 14 days.”

The state set a single-day record for cases for the third day in a row. On Thursday, the state recorded 1,698 new cases. On Friday, it was 1,902 cases. That means Florida has added more than 6,100 cases since Thursday. The state also crossed another grim milestone Saturday — exceeding 3,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. With 49 more fatalities, the number of deaths is now 3,016.

Related: Florida coronavirus cases jump by more than 2,500, third record day in a row

The state’s 73,552 recorded infections include 480 new cases in the Tampa Bay area, nearly a fifth of the new cases statewide.

Hillsborough County had the largest single-day jump Saturday, with 209 cases added. Pinellas saw a single-day case increase of 162.

Both county’s numbers have been growing in the past week, alarming some local officials. Each has recorded slightly more than 100 deaths since the pandemic began.

The impact can be seen in downtown St. Petersburg, where a once-thriving restaurant scene is sputtering after a brief reopening.

“It’s horrible,” said Jeremy Wallace, owner of Copper Shaker at 169 1st Ave N. The bar is closed temporarily because a worker he shares with another establishment tested positive for COVID-19.

Wallace said the employee did not work at Copper Shaker while he was ill. Still, the entire workforce must be tested and cleared.

“It’s devastating, especially for somebody like myself who’s on the ownership side,” Wallace said.

In recent days, Facebook carried messages about temporary closings.

The Galley bar said it would reopen after all of its employees have been tested. But it did not reveal how many employees tested positive.

Patrons Kyle Matheny and Devin Matheny play giant beer pong in front of Park and Rec in 2019.
Patrons Kyle Matheny and Devin Matheny play giant beer pong in front of Park and Rec in 2019.

Park & Rec DTSP said it became aware Friday of a staff member who tested positive. "Out of an abundance of caution and to ensure the safety of our customers, we have temporarily closed Park & Rec DTSP to thoroughly sanitize our restaurant. Additionally, all of our staff is being tested for coronavirus,” the bar’s post said.

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The Avenue Eat + Drink revealed that one of its staffers tested positive and issued a nearly identical statement.

Trophy Fish, an outdoor dining establishment at 2060 Central Ave., closed Friday for a deep cleaning but reopened Saturday. Managers say the restaurant practices strict hygiene and social distancing. Employees have been wearing masks. But they wanted to take precautions.

Related: How coronavirus is spreading in Florida

People in St. Petersburg’s restaurant district are acutely aware of the sharp climb in cases in the neighborhoods around Copper Shaker and Trophy Fish. The state has reported 149 cases in the neighborhood near Trophy Fish, for example.

On Saturday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman urged affected bars and restaurants to take action if anyone on their staff tests positive. “Shut down, allow for contact tracing, test all employees, and reopen when safe,” he tweeted.

State guidelines for restaurants are limited. Wearing a mask to a restaurant is not mandated. Many restaurants, but not all, are requiring their service and kitchen staffs to wear masks. A smaller percentage are requiring staff to wear gloves. Some have encouraged diners to wear masks, with mixed results.

Restaurant managers who spoke with the Tampa Bay Times said they are acting responsibly, even if some of their competitors are not.

At Trophy Fish, managers said all servers wear masks and gloves, seats are 6 feet apart and no one is allowed to congregate at the bar.

“We take it very seriously,” said operations director Elizabeth Senyak. “Our staff is our No. 1 priority, and we never want to put them in a situation where they don't feel comfortable and they are not safe.”

Wallace said he is scrupulous about testing employees at Copper Shaker. He excuses them from work if they have any symptoms of illness. He required an employee to stay home because he had been traveling and coworkers worried he might have been infected on the plane.

But, when it comes to masks, Wallace said he leaves that decision to the employees and customers.

Wallace enjoyed Copper Shaker’s brief reopening.

“It was awesome,” he said. “Everyone was super happy. If we opened up tonight, everything would be okay. But it’s not worth the risk. We want to do our part and make sure everybody’s safe.”

Times staff writer Helen Freund contributed to this report.

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