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Pinellas commissioners extend restrictions amid growing pushback

Margie Manning



Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners has voted to extend the local state of emergency until May 1.

Pinellas County businesses deemed non-essential will remain closed, as will public beaches and pools at apartments and condominium complexes, until at least then. Those closures were among the restrictions put in place as local and state authorities try to stop the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus.

Initial worries that Pinellas County hospitals would not have the capacity to take care of Covid-19 patients have eased, county Administrator Barry Burton told commissioners at a meeting Tuesday, but there are now new concerns about the spread of the illness in long-term care facilities. There have been a total of 128 cases of Covid-19 among residents or staff in 23 Pinellas County long-term care facilities, with five deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Most commissioners said they want see additional information on whether the number of Covid-19 cases are continuing to increase, as well as find out whether Gov. Ron DeSantis would allow the statewide stay-at-home order to expire on April 30.

If DeSantis allows the statewide order to expire, as he is expected to do, Pinellas County’s Safer at Home order could remain in effect, Burton said.

There’s been growing resistance to the restrictions, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. The sheriff’s office arrested a Pinellas Park business owner for violating the stay-at-home order on April 16.

“We are seeing a lot more pushback and defiance as we deal with beaches, pools, the businesses in the community,” Gualtieri said. “I can tell you in the last few days it was rough out there. I was out there myself and people are flat out saying no and they’re being defiant to the deputies and the level of cooperation is not there the way it was a couple of weeks ago.”

The tone of the emails county commissioners are receiving also has changed, said Commission Chair Pat Gerard.

“Most of us could draw a direct line from that to the messages to liberate your states, which are outrageous as far as I’m concerned,” Gerard said.

Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters

The six-to-one vote to extend the local state of emergency to May 1 came over the objection of Commissioner Kathleen Peters, who wanted to open private pools immediately. Peters said the data she has seen indicates the number of new cases in Pinellas County is slowing. She said she’s observed people being responsible in their public behaviors, maintaining distances from others and not congregating in large groups.

“What I believe we have to do is give people hope. They have to know they are going to get their rights back. I think that the more we wait, the more anxious they are going to get,” Peters said.

If pools were to re-open, it would be seven to 14 days before public health officials could determine the impact of that decision on the overall number of Covid-19 cases, said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health-Pinellas County. That’s the amount of time it takes for people who get the virus to show symptoms.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch

“I’m not prepared to do something that might move us backwards,” said Commissioner Ken Welch.

Welch said he wants county officials to focus their efforts on a plan to give cash assistance to small businesses and individuals who have been hurt by the pandemic. Burton unveiled the outlines of that plan last week, using funding the county expects to receive from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“I put that recreation piece in a different category of desperation than a lot of our businesses and families are in,” Welch said. “They’re not getting unemployment, they’re not getting the Paycheck Protection Program. These folks are out of money and when the sheriff speaks to pushback, that’s what I’m focusing on. Folks are getting desperate because those other safety nets are not working. That’s where my concern is, getting that CARES act funding on the street as quickly as possible.”

Commissioners are expected to vote on the specifics of the county relief plan when they next meet on Tuesday, April 28. Commissioners also hope to get a report on Covid-19 in the county’s long-term care facilities on Tuesday, and Burton indicated he could have more information and recommendations by then on gradually lifting some restrictions.

“We want to provide a single strategy that’s thought through in terms of how do we open business, how do we open beaches, how do we open pools, and do that in coordination with our municipal partners,” Burton said.

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  1. Avatar

    Joni Welch

    April 22, 2020at11:09 am

    I feel that opening the county now would be a big mistake. We just got stuff pretty much under control. So why in the world would you want to take three steps backward.

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      Rebecca Kitten

      April 22, 2020at2:10 pm

      I believe May first is still too soon to lift restrictions

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        Lynneee Wandelear

        April 22, 2020at3:27 pm

        It is a selfish motive to ignore the fact that people are still getting sick and some are dying, just to go lay at a pool or beach. A relapse in any forward motion we have obtained could set us back for many more months and reclose everything to start over. Waiting a bit longer is the smarter, more humane approach.

        • Avatar

          Todd Priest

          April 22, 2020at5:51 pm

          Uh, you do realize that there are thousands of people in this county alone that have small businesses in harms way, right? This isn’t about wanting to lay by the pool but more about people being able to support their families. Another example of someone who likely either has nothing to lose or enough money to weather the storm. It’s shameful and selfish that you people don’t care. If you are worried about it, stay home.

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          Jimmy Teats

          April 22, 2020at6:48 pm

          I think it’s selfish for old people and those who still have jobs to demand businesses stay closed. We have families and the families of our employees to think about!!

        • Avatar

          Mia Farland

          April 22, 2020at6:58 pm

          Wait….let’s get to scale!!!! 128 people got sick out of close to a million residents ???? That’s not exactly “selfish” people need to WORK and pay their bills and feed their families!!! I we can see we are not a hotbed. Lets get people back to work!

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      Rebecca Kitten

      April 22, 2020at2:13 pm

      I’ll say it again… It’s too soon, period

      • Avatar

        Todd Priest

        April 22, 2020at5:48 pm

        So stay home if you feel that way.

  2. Avatar

    Tim Holladay

    April 22, 2020at1:48 pm

    I think our County commissioners had no authority to close the beaches and still have no authority over keeping them closed. The federal Govt. is requesting easements from beachfront properties in order to replenish because they say ” the beaches are PRIVATE PROPERTY”. As far as condo pools go they have no authority over those private properties as well. Most, if not all condos are strictly enforced and no outsiders are allowed to use the facilities and social distancing will be observed. At least allow the pool decks to be utilized. the death rate among those tested positive is 2& and if the same number of people tested equaled those who have had it and didn’t know they had it then the death rate is next to nothing, only 12 deaths in Pinellas. This is crazy and the Commisioners should be ashamed. when I called to express my intense dislike for this outrageous over reach only Comm. peters called back, and it was a week later. We will remember you come election time. Free our beaches and pools NOW!

    • Avatar

      Mia Farland

      April 22, 2020at6:50 pm

      Absolutely right!!! There are nearly 1,000,000 residents in Pinellas and we are closing the whole economy for 128 cases?? It’s WAY to sweeping for such a small number of cases never mind outlet rights!

  3. Avatar

    Pamela Jean

    April 22, 2020at4:38 pm

    I think it is definitely too soon to be opening anything back up and I applaud the commissioners for staying the course and not listening to the few complainers who don’t seem to understand this virus is not done yet. I’m staying HOME.

    • Avatar

      Todd Priest

      April 22, 2020at5:47 pm

      Funny that most if not all of you people who support this garbage have ZERO to lose. I bet it would be a bit different if you did.

    • Avatar

      Mia Farland

      April 22, 2020at6:47 pm

      Give me a break. 128 people with COVID 19 out of nearly a million residents in Pinellas County???? Its WAY out of scale for such sweeping closures and ecooomic damage it’s doing to county residents and businesses.

  4. Avatar

    Mia Farland

    April 22, 2020at6:54 pm

    I think this sweeping action is becoming unucessary. We now know our county is NOT a Covid 19 hotbed….There are only 128 cases Out of nearly 1,000,000 residents… The scale of that is just shocking when you think about the Massive amount of economic damage. You need to let people go to WORK never mind beaches and pools!! .

  5. Avatar

    Ryan Mitchell

    April 22, 2020at7:11 pm

    If people don’t heed the advice of the medical community this virus will spike and take out more people. Also this will increase the duration of our shelter in place. If they say all the sharks are gone we think, now do you want to be the first person back in the water ….no.

  6. Avatar

    Johannes Helsen

    April 22, 2020at8:07 pm

    I am flying back home to St Petersburg on Wednesday from Queensland, Australia and am not looking forward to 2 weeks of isolation but it is the right thing to do. Queensland have had only 2 new cases in the last 5 days because the enforce the Stay at Home policy with $1300 fines for violating it. I feel very safe here and I hope the authorities will continue to enforce the closer of the beaches, parks and gatherings. It is the distancing that was able to stop the coronavirus here, people need to cooperate and stop this as quickly as possible. I applaud the Pinellas County authorities for trying to protect us. Let’s base this on science not emotions!

  7. Avatar

    Robert Wishaw

    April 22, 2020at8:09 pm

    I would like to think the County commissioners For staying the course even though under pressure bya few to keep us safe. I would much rather sacrifice a few more weeks to end coming into the hurricane season. It would be unthinkable to have thousands of seniors living in mobile homes evacuated to centers displacing their safety and even the safety of a place to eat. Then throw in the fall flu Season is just too much to deal with. Let’s do what we can now to end this.Thank You for your service.

  8. Avatar

    Ann Demers

    April 22, 2020at9:22 pm

    I commend Pinellas county for extending local state of emergency until May1st. Hope it be extended further if need be. Better be safe then sorry!

  9. Avatar

    LJ Milo

    April 22, 2020at9:33 pm

    All of these commissioners probably have their own homes with their own private pools so this restriction doesn’t affect them at all.

  10. Avatar

    LJ Milo

    April 23, 2020at3:23 pm

    Apparently these commissioners have not seen the studies showing that sunlight helps to kill viruses and boost the immune system. Either that or they are just so drunk on their own power that they don’t care.

  11. Avatar

    Danny White

    April 25, 2020at2:34 pm

    So, the commissioners voted to EXTEND the order from April 30 to May 1? A whole 24-hour day LONGER!? What is the gain? I am perfectly okay if someone points out the obvious purpose of this move!

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