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St. Petersburg to require businesses to make employees wear masks

Starting 5 p.m. Friday, all employees who face customers must wear face masks, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced.

ST. PETERSBURG — Concerned about a rise in coronavirus cases, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Wednesday that businesses must require their employees to wear masks starting Friday evening.

Kriseman said businesses “will be required to have their employees wear a face mask or covering while in areas of the business open to the public” as of 5 p.m. Friday

That includes restaurants, bars, gyms, retail shops, entertainment establishments and personal services businesses like salons and barbers. He said he’s spoken with county officials and hopes they follow suit on a countywide mask requirement.

“We have a choice, St. Pete. We can suffer the short term inconveniences and put the worst of this virus behind us, or we can suffer indefinitely in fits and starts,” Kriseman said during his weekly Facebook Live address on the city’s response to the coronavirus. “We can wear a mask, protect others and ourselves, or we can contribute to someone’s death. Maybe even our own.”

The mayor’s announcement came a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would not roll back the state’s reopening from the coronavirus shutdown, despite the number of positive cases of COVID-19 on the rise both statewide and in the Tampa Bay area. It also comes as bars and restaurants across the region contend with coronavirus cases among their staffs, some choosing to shutter their doors temporarily for the safety of employees and patrons.

Related: Ron DeSantis, on climbing coronavirus case numbers: ‘We’re not rolling back.’

On Wednesday the state added 2,610 new cases, the 15th consecutive day where new cases topped 1,000. Tuesday’s 2,783 new cases was a daily record. Pinellas County also had a near record high number of cases reported on Wednesday, with 161. Hillsborough hit a record for new single-day cases with 244 infections reported.

Kriseman also said his office is drafting an order that would require all residents to wear masks in businesses. That order is not yet complete, he said. Should he choose to implement it, he will not do so before the weekend.

The mayor took on DeSantis, who has blamed the recent surge in positive cases on more testing.

“He’s wrong that this is what’s causing the surge,” Kriseman said. “Simple math tells us that. He also blamed it on infections in long term care facilities, jails and even among migrant workers. As it relates to St. Pete, he’s wrong about that as well.”

Kriseman said on June 8, Pinellas County recorded a positive rate of 1.8 percent. On Tuesday, despite testing fewer people, the county’s positive rate jumped to 6.6 percent.

“So more tests doesn’t necessarily equate to more positives, Mr. Governor,” Kriseman said. “More positives equate to more positives.”

Instead, Kriseman pointed to the 25-to-34-year-old demographic, saying the city’s community spread “is largely due to young adults letting their guard down.” He said the bars and restaurants that have announced positive cases among their staff makes that clear.

Related: Coronavirus cases up at Tampa Bay bars and restaurants, with little guidance on how to handle

Last week, St. Petersburg’s the Galley and Park & Rec DTSP both closed temporarily after staffers there tested positive, while on Tuesday, Jannus Live announced it temporarily shuttered the Pelican Pub, the Landing and Detroit Liquors after one staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Noble Crust announced Wednesday it was temporarily shuttering its St. Petersburg location after an employee tested positive.

Others restaurants, like Hyde Park Village’s Meat Market and Cali (formerly Ciccio Cali) in St. Petersburg, have stayed open despite positive cases among staff but say they are deep cleaning, testing and contact tracing. Some businesses, like St. Petersburg’s Hawkers and Trophy Fish, temporarily closed recently as a precaution, but did not say whether employees there tested positive for COVID-19.

Kriseman also announced Wednesday that businesses will be required to create and post a plan that identifies potential exposure spots within the establishment and describes steps businesses will take to reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading.

The mayor warned that enforcement of the new mask rule will be taken seriously and that violating it could result in “financial or other business operations-related sanctions.”

City employees will be visiting businesses, and the Kriseman encouraged residents who see employees who aren’t wearing masks to contact the St. Petersburg Police Department.

“Consider this your warning,” he said.

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