Mayor Rick Kriseman has held off issuing a city order directing non-essential businesses to close to battle the spread of coronavirus, but he hasn’t ruled it out for the future.
Kriseman said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference that for now the city would follow a “Safer at Home” resolution adopted earlier in the day by the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners. He said the city would monitor activity over the weekend and if there are crowds, he could issue his own more restrictive order for the city, shutting all non-essential businesses.
The city also is working on a program to provide grants to help small businesses in sectors most hurt by ongoing restrictions. That program, dubbed “The Fighting Chance Fund,” is in the formative stages, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.
The Pinellas county resolution approved Wednesday directs county residents to limit non-essential activity. It also requires non-essential businesses in the county to close, but it includes what Kriseman called “a big donut hole.” Under the county’s resolution, non-essential businesses can stay open as long as they comply with social distancing guidelines and make sure workers and customers maintain a distance of at least six feet from other people.
“That allows anyone to go anywhere,” Kriseman said, although he failed in his request to get county commissioners to include language to close all non-essential businesses.
He said he has the authority to take stronger steps.
“I don’t want to be cynical, but it’s hard not to be given that we’ve all seen instances where businesses haven’t necessarily followed the guidelines or the rules,” Kriseman said. “I can’t say it strongly enough. Follow the rules. Follow the guidelines. If you want to stay open, you’ve got to do it. Otherwise we’re going to shut you down.”
He said he recognized the difficult decision the county commission faced, and added that everyone is making decisions they’ve never had to make before.
“However, economies can be rebuilt. People can’t. The only way to truly save lives and to flatten the curve is to suffer the short-term pain associated with a shutdown of all nonessential businesses and to stay home,” Kriseman said.
The city can and will rebuild its economy and that’s a major focus, he said.
Small and independent businesses are the lifeblood of the economy, Tomalin said.
“We must be focused on our recovery and on giving our small business owners, who have been so adversely impacted by these necessary public health protocols, a fighting chance to survive, to recover, to succeed. We must help the employees who breathe life into these businesses the same chances,” she said.
The goal is to create a fund and distribute resources to the sectors most adversely impacted by recent orders. The fund will provide locally owned and operated businesses of a certain size and their employees some relief. It will provide a grant, not a loan, Tomalin said.
The city is still working through the specifics, but city council members have indicated their support, she said.