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