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How the City of St. Petersburg is functioning under Covid-19

Megan Holmes

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The City of St. Petersburg, its many departments and its employees are rapidly responding to the ramifications of Covid-19. But the city is also managing its responsibility to provide essential services and to mitigate the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mayor Rick Kriseman provided an update to City Council via Zoom, describing how the city itself is responding to and functioning within the pandemic.

Kriseman shared a multi-faceted update on health and public safety efforts, economic development services, and the functions of each department in the city. The mayor also further clarified the city’s closure of leisure services and prohibited activities in parks and recreation areas.

“Over the past several weeks, my administration has been focused on two things,” Kriseman said. “The health and safety of the community at large and of the employees of the city of St. Petersburg; and the economic wellbeing of the business community and city government, both in the long term and the short term.”

Kriseman said public safety is the number one concern of city business. He said that Covid-19 has changed how the city is conducting business, in order to ensure the safety and health of city employees and residents.

Kriseman explained that many of the most visible changes that city residents will see are the closure of recreation centers, libraries, tennis courts, pickleball courts, dog parks, playgrounds, skate parks and pools. Kriseman also reported that the city has also taken the rims off of backboards in basketball courts, removed nets from volleyball courts and is prohibiting organized sports and activities like basketball, volleyball, baseball, soccer and softball. However, due to exemptions in county and state orders, golf courses remain open, with social distancing measures in place.

Many departments that operate behind the scenes, like Sanitation, Public Works, Water Resources, Fire & Rescue and Police are functioning relatively normally as essential services, while providing social distancing measures to workers to the greatest extent possible and operating mostly using emergency shift protocols.

Due to the exposure concerns of Covid-19, Fire & Rescue has had to expand emergency medical services. Kriseman explained that Fire & Rescue has developed  Covid Strike Teams. The specialized EMS teams are strategically placed throughout the city to cover the greatest area. The goal of the team is to reduce “burn rate” of personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders, Kriseman said, and to prepare for the peaks and spikes associated with infection rates. The teams prevent contamination of other fire stations and allows firefighter and paramedics that are not part of those teams, to carry out other, non-Covid-19 related services. The Procurement department has shifted focus to ensure first responders and law enforcement officers have the PPE they need.

St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway has suspended fingerprint services, the Second Chance diversion program and neighborhood walking patrol programs called Park, Walk and Talk.

Other departments, like Neighborhood Affairs, have significantly streamlined their workforce and services. The Codes department has reduced staff by 50 percent, and those who are reporting to work are doing so on a rotating basis. Code enforcement has been reduced only to serious issues like securing unfit structures and addressing major overgrowth. Codes enforcement has suspended special assessments and foreclosures due to code liens.

The City’s Social Services department has coordinated with Pinellas County and the Homeless Leadership Alliance to shelter homeless residents and provide increased funding to shelter homeless residents in hotels. It has also executed a $100,000 contract with Pinellas Opportunity Council to prevent homelessness through rent and mortgage assistance.

The Housing department is also coordinating with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to increase Community Development Block Grant Dollars (CDBG) and emergency grant dollars distributed as part of the federal CARES Act. The Housing Department plans to use those funds for more rental and mortgage assistance.

The Legal department has been particularly busy, alongside its normal city business, crafting city emergency orders and interpreting the language of county and state emergency orders, as well as the federal CARES act.

The most visible economic program of the pandemic has been the city’s Fighting Chance Fund, which Kriseman says has kept the Mayor’s office, Economic Development, The Greenhouse, Finance, Legal and Marketing departments particularly busy, crafting the program, developing its application, sorting through the applications and dispersing approved funds. The Budget department monitors and estimates revenue impacts to current budget due to a dip in sales tax revenues and expenditures of the Fighting Chance Fund, and works to make adjustments to fiscal year 2021 budget, while cataloging expenditures to report to FEMA for assistance.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Alexandra Kaan

    April 16, 2020at5:52 pm

    When will recovered and suspected recovered covid citizens be able to be tested. Tried and true method of defense is first step test, then contract trace, then isolate, then vaccinate.

    We need to be tested yesterday already.

  2. Avatar

    Carol Fontaine

    April 16, 2020at6:36 pm

    I think grocery stores and drug should should make their employees wear masks. Also, you should put in an order requiring people who go I to stores to wear masks. I know Fresh Market has started that and I applaud them. It could really reduce the spread of Covid-19.

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