To combat DeSantis order on mask violations, Kriseman puts it back on businesses

St. Petersburg’s mayor is ordering businesses to develop COVID mitigation plans, which include strategies to enforce Pinellas County’s mask ordinance.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday announced a new order emphasizing that businesses need a COVID-19 mitigation, which must include a strategy to enforce Pinellas County's mask ordinance.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday announced a new order emphasizing that businesses need a COVID-19 mitigation, which must include a strategy to enforce Pinellas County's mask ordinance. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Sept. 29, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — After Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last week suspending fines and fees for people cited for violating COVID-19 restrictions, Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday responded with an order of his own, putting the onus on businesses.

Even though St. Petersburg is precluded by DeSantis’ order from collecting fines from individuals who ignore Pinellas County’s mask ordinance, it can still hold businesses accountable.

The mayor said he would be signing an order of his own, emphasizing that businesses that are open to the public in St. Petersburg must have a “COVID-19 mitigation plan,” and that the plan must show how they plan to enforce the mask ordinance.

“Failure to comply with the mitigation plan requirements could result in a municipal ordinance violation," Kriseman said Tuesday during a news conference at Pinellas Ale Works.

Kriseman’s announcement, which in St. Petersburg puts some teeth back into the county’s mask requirement, comes after DeSantis on Friday suspended only the collection of fines. But the governor’s order didn’t remove local mask orders from the books. That dynamic — having a countywide order that officials implore patrons to follow but cannot themselves enforce — has led to confusion and defiance.

The governor also eliminated statewide restrictions on capacities within bars and restaurants, a move Kriseman said makes sense in Pinellas County, where the two-week average positivity rate has hovered near 3 percent, below the World Health Organization’s recommended rate for loosening restrictions.

It doesn’t make sense, Kriseman said, in other parts of the state where the virus remains more rampant.

“It feels like the governor is really forcing the issue and trying to paint the picture that everything is going well around the state, and that’s simply not the case," Kriseman said.

The new St. Petersburg order, which was not made public Tuesday night, will also require businesses with websites to post their mitigation plans online, and to post signage at the entrance telling patrons the plan is available upon request.

Kriseman also announced that starting Oct. 5, most public-facing city services will reopen, including libraries, recreation centers and offices. But not every city employee is returning right away. Some will continue to telecommute through the end of 2020.

The city is also beginning to process permits for events taking place after Oct. 5 on city property, Kriseman said. The city has had a moratorium on permitted events since the pandemic came into full swing.

And the mayor made what might be the most exciting announcement: that some fans will be allowed to attend next month’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Postponed in March, the race is set to take place Oct. 23-25.

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But, Kriseman warned, the pandemic isn’t over.

“If we see our rolling two week average to 5 percent or higher again, we will reevaluate and likely have to revert to tighter restrictions," he said.

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