Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton has suggested reopening public beaches, swimming pools and some playgrounds, as part of the county’s next step in the addressing the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
In a memo offering options for the Board of County Commissioners to consider, Burton said he is waiting on guidance from the state before making a recommendation on businesses reopening.
The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday, and by then, Burton said he hopes Gov. Ron DeSantis makes a decision on whether he will extend the statewide stay at home order beyond its April 30 expiration date. The statewide order, which took effect April 3, restricted Floridians movement to essential services and essential activities, in an effort to control the spread of the virus. Following that order, Pinellas commissioners approved their own resolution, closing non-essential business in the county.
Pinellas commissioners had closed the beaches in mid-March.
“The purpose of the implemented County measures was not to eradicate the virus because that is not possible. Rather, the measures were implemented to slow the increased number of cases through social distancing so there is less opportunity to spread the virus,” Burton wrote in his April 24 memo. “To continue to combat the spread of Covid-19 in Pinellas County, it is recommended that restrictions are gradually lifted to ensure the progress that has been made to this point is not diminished. The next phase is not a return to normality, it is learning how to live with the pandemic while mitigating the impact on our community.”
He outlined three key points for the first step in reopening:
• Public beaches and public beach parking facilities could reopen, possibly with limited hours and activities restricted to exercise only, as well as observance of social distancing guidelines. He suggested a two-day lead time for reopening, to give municipalities time to allocate staff and resources to ensure social distancing guidelines are followed.
• Swimming pools in hotels, motels, lodging establishment, condominiums, commercial businesses and homeowners associations could reopen at 50 percent of maximum capacity. This measure also would need a two-day lead time, to make sure owners and operators could had the staff and resources in place to ensure proper sanitation protocols and social distancing.
• Playgrounds and equipment at child care facilities could be used once they are cleaned and sanitized. Public playgrounds would remain closed.
Burton said the options in his memo represent an analysis of the best available data, municipal and other stakeholder feedback, demand on resources, and public health considerations from local health agencies.
Click here to see the full memo.
Burton included a data report that said the number of new cases reported continued to increase in Pinellas County, but at a slower pace than earlier in April. As of 10 a.m. Saturday, Pinellas County had 677 confirmed cases and 24 deaths.
The data report also said hospitals in the county had the capacity to treat all current Covid-19 patients.
Feedback from 11 municipalities and a half-dozen chambers of commerce was mixed, with a handful saying they wanted to wait to reopen beaches. Several of the towns and chambers also suggested protocols for reopening restaurants and other businesses.
At the Tuesday meeting, commissioners also will be asked to finalize details on a program that would give cash assistance to small businesses in the county as well as individuals who have been hurt by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The program, funded by money appropriated to the county under federal CARES Act, would be limited to low-income Pinellas County residents and would provide funding to pay for overdue utility bills and overdue rent or mortgage to avoid eviction or foreclosure. It also would provide grants for some small businesses such as restaurants, bars, short-term lodging establishments and vacation rental management companies, non-essential businesses and places of public and private assembly.