Correction 7/10/20: The original version of this article stated that Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch did not directly answer our questions, however the county public relations office was contacted, not Commissioner Welch. The Gabber apologizes for the error.
On Tuesday, June 23 Pinellas County voted to make face covering mandatory for individuals who want to conduct business indoors in public spaces.
By Wednesday, June 24 the City of Gulfport set up two free mask distribution centers: One at the Gulfport Casino, Monday to Friday 1 to 8 p.m., and one at the Gulfport Neighborhood Center, Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
St. Petersburg initially started free mask distribution on June 9. St. Petersburg city distribution sites include four downtown options – but only one option for western St. Petersburg, and one for northern city residents. Two city-run options are open in the southern part of the city.
County distribution sites are not necessarily compensating for the disparities.
Since June 24, the county has estimated they’ve given away 114,300 masks as of Wednesday, July 2. Pinellas County’s current estimated population is approximately 970,000 residents.
Pinellas County health officials reported that the 33705 zip code in south St. Petersburg has the highest numbers of coronavirus cases in Pinellas, but few sites were established by the county in the most needed areas.
When the Gabber asked the City of St. Petersburg about this apparent shortfall, the city’s Communications Director, Benjamin J. Kirby, said, “We have set up St. Pete mask distribution sites across the city that lasted as long as we had masks. I believe we are getting more masks soon and will distribute across St. Petersburg.”
Through combined city and county efforts, three additional sites were established in south St. Petersburg for short-term distribution. Two of these three sites operated two days in total, for two hours each day. St. Petersburg Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders hosted a third site at Lake Vista Recreation Center. Here, residents could get masks from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on July 2.
Residents in southwest St. Petersburg and the beaches have even fewer options. On St. Pete Beach, there are only two sites, while supplies last.
When asked about the scarcity of sites for residents, City of St. Pete Beach Public Information Officer Sarah Laracuente told the Gabber: “The county is working closely with our community and has organized outreach with free masks out of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber office located at 6990 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. Our City Hall is open by appointment only and is offering masks to visitors that do not have one.”
The county did not reply directly to the question about the disparity in mask distribution sites.
“We’ve been updating our current list of distribution sites every day as we get additional organizations and municipalities who are interested in partnering with us,” explained Pinellas County Marketing and Public Information Manager David Connor. “We’ve distributed more than 114,300 masks so far and are looking forward to getting more out there. Additionally, we want residents to know that they can make face coverings at home without special equipment.”