St. Pete requiring employees of all businesses to wear face masks, mayor says

The city of St. Petersburg is requiring employees of all businesses to wear a face mask, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida.

Mayor Rick Kriseman made the announcement on the new mandate during a Facebook live Wednesday afternoon, saying the order will take effect starting at 5 p.m. Friday.

All employees in public-facing roles will be required to wear masks, although an exception will be made for some medical conditions.

Additionally, Kriseman said he is exploring another mandate that would require everyone to wear a mask while entering businesses. He’s waiting to see what the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners decide when they take up the issue during an emergency meeting Thursday. 

Commissioner Chair Pat Gerard told FOX 13 Wednesday she doesn’t see the majority of Pinellas Commissioners supporting a county-wide mask mandate because Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said there is no way he could patrol mask use.

The announcement comes after several downtown St. Pete restaurants announced temporary closures due to confirmed coronavirus cases among staff members. 

Under current state guidelines, businesses don’t have to close, or even disclose when an employee tests positive. 

Over the weekend, Kriseman commended the businesses that have warned the public about positive cases and taken precautions to protect the public.

“All restaurant [sic], bars in St. Pete that have had an employee test positive should follow the lead of these places," he wrote. "Shut down, allow for contact tracing, test all employees, and reopen when safe. Residents must also do what is necessary to keep St. Pete safe.” 

Public officials in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties say data from the last two weeks of testing shows an alarming rise of coronavirus cases among young people. The number of positive cases among those 34 and under make up half of all new cases.  

Multiple bars and restaurants in St. Pete have been forced to shut down after workers tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks.

It’s a scenario Graphi-ko Gallery is trying to avoid.

“We’re being extra careful, we go behind people with alcohol spray and we spray down everything,” said Aerin Alexandre.

Signs posted outside the shop now require face coverings to come inside, and employees are also doing their part.

“I always have my mask on when customers are in,” Alexandre said.