Pinellas County rescinds face mask ordinance

Pinellas County has rescinded its requirement to wear facial coverings in indoor public places; however, the school board has not. Safety protocols will continue to be enforced through the end of the school year.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County government announced on Tuesday morning it was rescinding its ordinance requiring facial coverings and other safety protocols related to COVID-19.

The order that requires safety plans for large gatherings to be submitted to the county administrator also was rescinded.

In addition, public hearings on extending the local state of emergency and a public hearing on the ordinance previously scheduled on May 11 have been canceled.

The county says private businesses and organizations may still require that the public wear face coverings, practice social distancing or take other safety measures.

In addition, the Pinellas County School Board will continue with its safety protocols including masking and social distancing until 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 9, the last day of the school year.

The changes with requirements by county government is in response to an executive order signed May 3 in St. Petersburg by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which suspended local government’s ability to impose restrictions connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order was effective immediately. DeSantis also signed an executive order that takes away local governments’ power to enact COVID-19 restrictions permanently, which will become effective July 1, the same date that Senate Bill 2006 becomes law.

SB 2006 gives the governor the power to override local emergency orders. It also restricts local emergency orders, with the exception of hurricanes, to a maximum of 42 days with extensions required every seven days. Pinellas first enacted a state of local emergency in response to COVID-19 on March 13, 2020.

COVID-19 vaccines and testing

DeSantis encouraged the public to get vaccinated during his May 3 press conference.

“My message is the vaccine protects you,” he said. “Get vaccinated. Then live your life as if you’re protected.”

He said the continued “policing” of people using restrictions sent a message that the vaccine doesn’t work. He said everyone should get vaccinated even those at low risk.

The county along with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas has operated several vaccination and testing sites for many months.

County Administrator Barry Burton said April 27 that the demand had gone down in recent weeks. Vaccines are now widely available at pharmacies and other community locations, so the larger government-run sites have begun consolidating.

"The larger sites were there to meet the initial demand for COVID-19 vaccinations and were not intended to be permanent sites," said Dr. Ulyee Choe, DOH-Pinellas' director. "We are grateful to the firefighters and other first responders who were instrumental in serving the community's needs at these larger sites. We continue to recommend that everyone who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine gets protected at a site that is most convenient to them. "

The Pinellas Park site at 4951 78th Ave. N. closed for first doses on April. 30. It will cease operations after their second doses are completed. The Largo site at 1197 E. Bay Drive will be closing on Friday, May 7.

The Center for Health Equity, 2333 34th St. S. in St. Petersburg, will remain open during weekdays until further notice. Appointments are made via the CDR Maguire Patient Portal at www.PatientPortalFL.com.

The testing site at Tropicana Field's Lot 2 will close at the end of Saturday, May 15. The testing site at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater remains open.

To find a COVID-19 vaccination in Pinellas, visit https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/vaccines/ for a list of clinics and pharmacies.

To find COVID-19 testing, visit https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/testing/.

For more information on COVID-19 visit, https://covid19.pinellascounty.org.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.