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TAMPA, Fla. - The city of Tampa has issued an official warning to restaurants that aren't following social distancing and mask guidelines, partially blaming them for rising cases of COVID-19 among young people.
The city says contact tracers have linked several cases back to restaurants with liquor licenses that appear to be "operating and functioning as bars, with blatant violations of both state and local orders related to occupancy, social distancing, and safety measures such as the wearing of masks."
Under state orders, bars and nightclubs have been ordered to remain closed, but restaurants have permission to stay open as long as they follow the rules.
However, the city says it has photo and video evidence of rules being broken at certain establishments.
"Contact tracing has shown that many infected younger individuals visited these businesses and several establishments voluntarily shut down due to outbreaks among staff and patrons. Businesses that choose to ignore state and local orders are not only worsening the impacts of COVID-19 in Tampa but may be lengthening the amount of time that businesses are required to be closed or restricted," the city said in a letter sent to violators.
Tampa officials will now perform site inspections of places licensed to sell alcohol and are allowed to remain open under state guidelines.
Businesses that violate the rules, including selling alcohol to customers who are not seated at socially-distanced tables, may be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor which comes with a fine of up to $500, up to 60 days in jail, and possibly losing their license to sell alcohol.
"We understand that COVID-19 has placed tremendous strain on our local businesses, and put many at financial risk. The City of Tampa has worked hard for several months to educate businesses and individuals about the orders that are in place, and to encourage compliance," the city's letter said. "We all need to continue to work together to end the spread of COVID-19 in Tampa so that we can reopen all of our businesses, and ensure that we are stronger as a community moving forward."
The city did not specify which establishments it believed were in violation of the COVID-19 policies.