As the region’s other largest governments take steps to require people to wear face masks, Pinellas County officials finalized three proposed ordinances that could put coverings on some faces if commissioners pass the measure on Tuesday.
The proposals come after the commission directed County Administrator Barry Burton and County Attorney Jewel White last week to spell out who would be required to wear masks — the public at large, for instance, or only employees in a business who interact with customers.
The proposals offer different versions of a mask requirement. Each one would require bars to limit large crowds from gathering indoors. Each one also mandates social distancing and requires masks for some employees inside businesses, Burton told commissioners in an email Monday afternoon.
One proposal requires all people to wear a face covering while in any indoor establishment within Pinellas County. Another would require all people to wear face coverings in grocery stores, drug stores, doctor offices and hospitals. The third version would require masks for all indoor areas where customers interact with the public.
The ordinances make it mandatory for employees, owners and managers in establishments where food is prepared to keep their faces covered at all times while on duty, “regardless of where the food or beverage is being prepared or whether the customers being served food or beverage” are inside or outside.
Each version offers a slew of exemptions for medical conditions, children under the age of 2 and people strictly following social distancing guidelines of staying 6 feet apart. People who violate any of the proposals could be subject to a civil citation of $100 for a first violation, $250 for a second and $500 for a third, according to the ordinances.
The mask rules, public and health officials say, will slow the spread of the coronavirus. Florida’s running total of positive infections jumped to 100,217 on Monday. The overall death toll in Florida sits at 3,266.
Last week, county officials discussed photos taken at clubs in St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach, showing crowds standing shoulder-to-shoulder while drinking or listening to a band.
All three ordinances state that bars and restaurants may not serve food or drinks to customers for on-site consumption unless they are seated at a table or bar. Standing at a bar will be prohibited. If passed, the bars will not be allowed to let unseated customers congregate in crowds.
“Bar patrons must not be permitted to remain unseated at a table or at the bar, in any area of the Bar, unless waiting to be seated,” according to the ordinances.
Commissioners and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri debated last week over how to enforce any mask requirement. Gualtieri urged the elected officials to make simple rules to prevent business owners and the public from skirting any order.
The ordinances puts the enforcement responsibility on owners, managers and employees to “ensure that every individual in that establishment complies” with the rules.
On Saturday, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued a public health advisory recommending that people wear face masks in public. The document, date stamped on Monday, recommends “all individuals should refrain from participation in social or recreational gatherings of more than 50 people.” For those in crowd sizes smaller than that, the direction is simple: “Practice social distancing by maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from each other and wear a face covering.”
A Tampa mask rule started at 5 p.m. on Friday. The mandatory mask order requires all Tampa residents and visitors to wear masks indoors when outside of their home.
Last Wednesday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced that businesses must require their employees to wear masks when they’re in areas open to the public, starting two days later at 5 p.m. Those include restaurants, bars, gyms, retail shops, entertainment establishments and personal services businesses such as salons and barber shops.
“Mayor Kriseman is advocating for Pinellas County to issue a broader mask order,” Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said, by which anyone entering an enclosed public space would need to wear a mask.
Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard also told commissioners the city supports an order that “would require all businesses to ensure their employees wear face coverings when physically” interacting with the public.
On Monday, Hillsborough County commissioners voted to require all indoor business operators to enforce a mandatory mask order that starts on Wednesday.
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