St. Petersburg issues ‘Race to Safe’ challenge to keep COVID rate among lowest in the state

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St. Petersburg leaders Monday announced a new initiative to fight the spread of COVID-19. The “Race to Safe” campaign challenges residents to help keep COVID numbers in St. Pete and Pinellas among the lowest in Florida.

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Standing under a cloudy sky on the rain soaked steps of City Hall, Mayor Rick Kriseman said it’s time to get competitive when it comes to battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s going to take everyone in the community to be involved in helping us win this race to be the best in the state of Florida,” he said. It’s a little different way of going at it. Instead of just asking people to do the right thing, we want to challenge them to take part in this race to be competitive. Let their competitive spirit come out.”

A grim milestone

Coronavirus cases continue to soar throughout the country as well as in Florida. Last week, Florida joined Texas and California in surpassing the grim milestone of having 1 million people infected with COVID-19 since the virus was first reported here in March. Just over two months after Florida went into its Phase 3 reopening – which lifted most restrictions on public gatherings – the average two-week case positivity rate was 7.66 percent. That’s well above the 5 percent two-week average recommended by the World Health Organization for safe reopenings.

But Kriseman said Pinellas has managed to fair a bit better.

“Our two week average percent positivity is 5.8 percent,” he said. “This remains the lowest two week average among Florida’s top 10 most populated counties, which is pretty good considering we happen to be the most densely populated county in the state.”

The Race to Safe

So, Kriseman said, the City wants to keep it that way. “Race to Safe” doesn’t add any more restrictions than those already in place at the city and county level. It’s a messaging campaign aimed at encouraging residents, businesses and their patrons to stay vigilant with precautions like wearing masks, social distancing and limiting gatherings.

“Let’s make St. Pete and Pinellas County the COVID-safest city and county in the state of Florida,” he said. “Let’s make sure our residents and visitors feel safe living here and visiting here. Let’s make sure our businesses can continue to stay open until a vaccine is available to everyone.”

The campaign comes with a website, stpeteracetosafe.com, where visitors can track Pinellas’s positivity rate against Florida’s other top-10 counties. It also includes toolkits and educational materials with suggested best practices.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said businesses and community partners can use toolkits to help in the campaign. The kits have collateral materials to spread the messages, suggested social media posts, flyers, posters and facts to get people to the website.

“This is a community wide campaign. It is not the city’s campaign,” she said. “And so they will also act as important distribution partners, to make sure that this spreads much further than our reach for really goes into the homes and the lives of the 270,000 people who call St. Pete home.”

A little further to go

Kriseman said he understands the frustration people feel as the pandemic enters its ninth month, especially with the holidays upon us. Health experts fear the holidays will lead to greater surges and more deaths. But Kriseman implored St. Pete and Pinellas residents to hold fast. It’s more important now than ever, he said, to not let our guards down.

“This isn’t about politics. It isn’t about posturing. It’s about public health. It’s about saving lives,” he said. “Soon we’ll have coherent consistent messaging coming from Washington, we’ll have a vaccine. It’s been a long nine months, we have just a little further to go.”

Kriseman said the goal is to get the test positivity rate below 5 percent. It had dipped under 3 percent before Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Phase 3 reopenings. But with the reopenings, Kriseman said came confusing and sometimes conflicting messaging. That led to complacency.

Businesses and residents let their guards down. Last week, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said deputies were taking note of non-compliant businesses and would ramp up enforcement. Kriseman hopes “Race to Safe” will work with that effort to keep St. Pete open and healthy.

“To me, this campaign is the right step,” he said. “It’s our last and best chance at having our economy coexist with the virus before having to put more restrictions in place.”