A statewide Stay at Home order issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in an effort to control the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus will lead to many more businesses closing in Pinellas County.
“With the governor’s order, there are a whole, whole bunch of businesses now that will have to close their doors,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners Thursday.
While voicing concern that DeSantis’ order, which takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, was vague and confusing, Pinellas County commissioners voted to extend the county’s emergency orders, including the Safer at Home order that was issued last week, after presentations by Gualtieri and Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton.
Commissioners also voted to allow Burton to order any retail business not included in the list of essential businesses to close, to order any essential business to adhere to social distancing and other CDC guidelines, and to close businesses not in compliance with those guidelines.
Overall, the state order supersedes the Pinellas County order, Gualtieri said. Pinellas County can enact tougher restrictions on businesses than the state order, he said, but the county cannot categorize businesses considered non-essential by the state as essential in Pinellas County.
“We do not believe the governor’s actions changes any of the local actions taken in Pinellas County,” Burton said.
Gualtieri cited bookstores, jewelry stores, and furniture stores as among the types of retailers that were allowed to stay open under a Pinellas County Safer at Home order approved by county commissioners last week.
DeSantis’ order does not close any businesses, but will result in non-essential businesses closing anyway, Gualtieri and Burton said.
“The governor’s order restricted people’s movement,” Burton said. “It said you can leave your house but you can’t go to the bookstore. It said you can only go to essential businesses. So we’re saying how can a non-essential business stay open if nobody is allowed to go there.”
For instance, a barbershop is considered a non-essential business. “If that barber shop wanted to leave its door unlocked and leave an open sign on the door, they could,” Gualtieri said. “But because it’s non-essential no employees could leave their house to go work there and no patrons could leave their house to go to the barber shop. So what we’re saying is … let’s close those non-essential businesses as well.”
Burton and Gualtieri will compile a list of specific types of businesses that need to close, but there will be gray areas, Gualtieri said.
One area of confusion is how the statewide order applies to senior citizens, the group that health officials believe are more likely to get seriously sick or die if they have coronavirus. The order says seniors have to stay at home, but the order does not define a “senior,” Gualtieri said.
“It does not carve out any exceptions, but we are going to apply this with common sense,” Gualtieri said. “This was not done with clarity. That leaves it to us to apply it with the greatest clarity balanced against common sense as we can. Don’t worry about that. Again, good faith. Make the honest effort, do the right thing and you’re going to be fine.”
Most Pinellas County businesses have done a good job of complying with the county’s Safer at Home order, the sheriff said.
“Businesses big and small and the people patronizing those businesses have really stepped up,” Gualtieri said.
One area of concern is in recreational areas, but many of the initial problems with large groups congregating in recreational areas have been addressed, Gualtieri said.
In a 48-hour period, between Thursday, March 26, and Saturday, March 28, Pinellas County deputies and city police officers posted 14,200 yellow Safer at Home notices on retail businesses countywide.
“It’s been effective,” Gualtieri said. “When you get a cop showing up and posting notices, it gets their attention and it caused people who weren’t acting to act.”
Deputies also hand-delivered 2,800 closure notices to every pool in Pinellas County, as well as notices to 38 golf courses informing the golf course operators what was expected of them under the guidelines .
The county has set up a call center to get tips about potential violations of the county order.
Of the 460 tips received, about 11 percent of businesses were found to be in violation of the order, Gualtieri said.