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Kriseman, Castor urge caution in re-opening local, state economy

Margie Manning



Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman

Amid a growing push to re-open an economy that’s been slowed by efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor are taking a cautious approach.

Both mayors are advocating for more testing to determine who carries the virus before widely re-opening businesses that have been closed during the pandemic.

The two mayors spoke just hours after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted the inaugural meeting of his Re-Open Florida Task Force, a group of public officials, civic and business leaders charged with giving DeSantis recommendations by the end of the week on ways to reopen some industry sectors and geographic regions.

Neither Castor, the mayor of the third largest city in Florida, nor Kriseman, mayor of Florida’s fifth-largest city, said they have spoken to DeSantis personally since the crisis began.

“The challenge that we as mayors face — and we know, because we see it every day — is the economic impact that this is having,” Kriseman said during a Facebook Live update with Castor Monday afternoon. Both St. Petersburg and Tampa have set up relief funds for small businesses. “We know how much they’re hurting. We want to [help] right away, but our most important job is keeping our residents safe. So how do we find that balance, and what does it look like?”

Kriseman wants to be able to check the boxes on three key metrics before resuming business as usual:

√ Fourteen consecutive days without an increase in confirmed Covid-19 cases.

√ A decline in hospitalizations. “We want to know that there are ample hospital beds if there another surge that does happen, if that second wave comes, that we’ve got the beds for it and the [personal protective equipment] for it,” Kriseman said.

√ More testing and contact tracing — or finding out with whom each sick person has had interactions.

Only 1 percent of Florida’s population has been tested for Covid-19, which doesn’t provide enough data to make decisions, Castor said.

“If those things are in place it would make me a whole lot more comfortable,” Kriseman said. “If we rush to this and it comes back it’s going to be that much worse. That’s what other countries have seen happen. It’s worse from a health standpoint and it’s worse economically. I would rather us take a little longer. We’re going to hurt a little bit more in the in short term, but in the long term we’re going to be better off.”

Castor said she wants to see more antibody testing, designed to determine if individuals have had the virus without being aware they had it. That’s one way to get people safely back into the workforce, she said.

“Also I firmly believe in face coverings. If we can get that to be our new normal and have individuals wearing them, that would stop the spread of this,” Castor said.

The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group last week declined to take up Castor’s proposed mandate for face coverings. The policy group said it will recommend, but not require, face coverings.

Kriseman said he hopes Pinellas and Hillsborough counties can be on the same page when it comes to re-opening the economy.

“I agree, as a region we should go about this in a thoughtful and practical manner, doing what we can to slowly open our businesses and our community back up,” Castor said. “I see it as something that’s gradual. As long as the decisions are thoughtful and practical, and we’re looking at the health and well-being of our citizens first and the economy second, I think we’ll be making the best decisions.”

Castor also said there is no “one size fits all” approach for Florida, and Kriseman agreed.

“My big concern or fear is whatever our governor decides to do, that we aren’t pre-empted as local governments from taking action than might be different than say, in the Panhandle. Our numbers are different, what’s happening in our communities is different,” Kriseman said. “I hope we’re given the latitude and the recognition that the science in our community could be different than the science elsewhere so at least as we come out of this, we have that flexibility.”

By the numbers

Confirmed Covid-19 cases as of 5 p.m. April 20


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  1. Avatar

    Jak P.

    April 21, 2020at11:19 am

    I’m an Owner/Operator of a personal training business in St. Pete that was directed to shut down (despite our ability to adhere to CDC guidelines). I’ve heard nothing on my application for unemployment, PPP, and SBA Disaster funds. Because I don’t live in the City limits of St. Pete I don’t qualify for local support.

    The language our local Mayors are using concerns me in its lack of scientific and management clarity. For example, we will stay closed until we see, “A decline in hospitalizations”. What does that mean? A decline from what and to what level? Our community has or doesn’t have available beds. A “decline” isn’t a manageable directive. Furthermore, As Mayor Castor said that 1% testing “isn’t enough”. One percent is the level testing South Korea used to gauge their actions — and they’ve outperformed all other nations. I DO agree with Mayor Castor that we MUST TEST antibodies — as this a better gauge and will enable the capture of plasma to help people who will have difficulty developing immunity on their own.

    Regarding immunity, it seems we are forgetting the natural way humans have always dealt with viruses is having enough people to contact and fight-off the disease — as this will slow rates of infection. This works for those with effective immune systems. To shut the economy to wait for vaccines for people who don’t want or need them seems wrong. If we have available resources (hospital or home-care, etc) why are we not discussing managing this to maximize herd immunity? IMHO this is because media company owners are paid by advertisers — many who have incentives to shape our response to the benefit certain industries including pharma. In this, local politicians are latching on to bad news and ignoring empowering news — which to me seems to be pushing a narrative of fear.

    Finally, I’ve invested a few hours to calculate the ‘death rates based on available data. As I see the numbers, COVID-19 is worse than flu because it is novel (new), so the risk of contagion is high. The death rate doesn’t seem as high as people are saying — and there are some indications that both the mortality and lung damage could be dropped with more early and aggressive use of oxygen — and backing down on ventalator pressure — and even substring lower pressure machines. I wonder how often this could be done through home healthcare and greatly expand our capacity and decrease transmission rates….

  2. Avatar

    M. Gene Stegall

    April 22, 2020at11:07 pm

    Took the words right out of my mouth.

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