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Grand Prix returns to St. Petersburg as COVID-19 positivity rate rises

Mayor Rick Kriseman says there are safety measures in place to address the pandemic. Businesses that break the rules could be cited.
Jon Jenney, sits alone with no fans in the stand while working in the VIP area overlooking pit lane, during the opening day of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13 in St. Petersburg. The race was cancelled that day because of the pandemic, but is set to resume this weekend with safety protocols in place.
Jon Jenney, sits alone with no fans in the stand while working in the VIP area overlooking pit lane, during the opening day of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13 in St. Petersburg. The race was cancelled that day because of the pandemic, but is set to resume this weekend with safety protocols in place. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 20, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday addressed the challenges facing the city this week as it hosts an international sporting event that will be attended by thousands of fans while the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 rises in Pinellas County.

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend kicks off Friday, the first major event the city will host since the pandemic started in March. That’s also when the Grand Prix was originally supposed to be held, but the race was halted on March 13 during a practice session.

The race, held annually since 2005, has become one of IndyCar’s crown jewels. Up to 20,000 fans will be allowed to attend this weekend’s race — but that doesn’t include the people who could be drawn downtown by the race.

But the race returns as Pinellas’ positivity starts moving upward. Kriseman, speaking at a news conference held at the entrance of the St. Pete Pier, said the county’s two-week positivity rate is 4.5 percent.

It was down to about 3 percent a few weeks ago, but still remains below the World Health Organization’s recommended 5 percent two-week positivity threshold for loosening social distancing restrictions.

Pinellas has seen 24,327 confirmed cases of the virus and 807 deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg could host 20,000 fans this month

The race has strict COVID-19 protocols in place, including a requirement that all attendees must wear masks. The mayor said the fact that the event is outside and takes place over a 50-acre area with limited attendance minimizes the risk.

“We are as a city very comfortable with what’s been put in place for this race," he said. “This is always a great television commercial for St. Pete, and so in particular this year, we want to do it right and show it off.”

The mayor reminded businesses and residents that despite Gov. Ron DeSantis' order last month placing the state into Phase 3 of its reopening plan — effectively eliminating all statewide mitigation measures against the pandemic — local restrictions still apply. Business employees and patrons must still wear masks. Tables at restaurants must be at least 6 feet apart, and parties are still limited to 10 people. Patrons cannot stand at bars. And businesses can be cited for breaking the rules

Said Kriseman: “For those business owners who aren’t playing by the rules, who don’t care if their selfishness negatively affects businesses who are trying to do it the right way, the St. Pete way, know this: We will cite you, and we will hold you accountable.”

The mayor stressed that, even though the governor promised not to issue anymore statewide orders because of the virus, Kriseman said that doesn’t mean he won’t act on his own if things get out of hand.

“If there are restrictions that will save hundreds or thousands of lives here in St. Pete, we will enact them," he said. "Because that’s my job.”

Related: Florida adds 3,662 coronavirus cases, 86 deaths Tuesday

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