'It's a big deal': Pinellas sheriff warns businesses to comply with COVID regulations

City and county leaders came together in Pinellas County on Thursday to stress the importance of businesses following the local COVID ordinance. 

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who battled coronavirus himself, says his deputies and local police officers scoured the county for three days, looking for problem spots where COVID-19 could be spread.

Out of 2,800 locations, he said, 40% of the bars and 8% of restaurants were not in compliance with the ordinance.

Deputies found employees not wearing masks, customers standing at bars, crowds of people not social distancing, and even open dance floors -- all in violation of the ordinance.

"As someone who's had COVID, I can tell you: it's not fun. It's not the flu. It's very serious, it's very dangerous,” he offered.

The sheriff showed off photos of what he said was non-compliance at bars and restaurants.

Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered that fines and penalties can no longer be applied to individuals, and while the sheriff says current ordinances do allow him to take action against non-compliant businesses, he doesn't want it to get to that point.

“If they force us to do it, then we’ll start taking action," he warned. "We can’t keep going down this path. We don’t want to get back to where we were in June where we saw 15%, 16% positivity. Where the health care system was overloaded. We’re really trying to be pre-emptive and proactive.”

Deputies will be distributing signs reminding everyone what the rules are, then conducting more checks.

"It's a big deal," he added. "We want to make sure we can take this to the finish line."