Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri came down hard on Pinellas County bars and restaurants Thursday afternoon after an investigation showed a rising trend of establishments not in compliance with COVID-19 ordinances.
The Sheriff scrutinized places of business for not meeting staff masking requirements, not distancing tables by at least 6 feet, and allowing patrons to congregate.
“If we don’t change the course, we will end up in a bad place, and there are very simple things that we can do — that we have to do,” he said. “What people need to understand (is) that these things are required by law. Wearing a mask is not fun, but the alternative is worse.“
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation in an attempt to pinpoint how and where cases may be spreading.
In a three day period — from Nov. 13 through Nov. 15 — deputies went in to nearly 2,800 restaurants across the county, some multiple times, to ensure accuracy. What they found: 40% of bars and 8% of restaurants were not practicing COVID-19 precautions.
“It’s not anecdotal, it’s not a one-off, it’s making sure the data establishes whether we have a problem,” Gualtieri said. “And we do.”
The most common problem officers saw: staff not wearing face coverings and lack of socially distant tables.
The Sheriff made it clear that the county will crack down on restaurants and bars if the problem is not addressed, and businesses could face harsh penalties.
“There are a lot of people that are under the impression that the county ordinance doesn’t have any teeth because Gov. [Ron] DeSantis issued an order that said fines and penalties are suspended,” Gualtieri said. “But there’s a rest of the sentence — fines and penalties are suspended for individuals, fines and penalties are not suspended for businesses.”
Gualtieri showcased several photographs of people in restaurants and bars disregarding COVID-19 precautions in hopes of illustrating what went wrong. These included pictures of people congregating on dance floors and standing around at bars. One photo showed a waitress sitting down with patrons without a mask.
Deputies will be handing out signs to businesses in the coming days to remind them to keep in compliance with county ordinances.