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Pinellas County commissioners approve ‘safer at home’ resolution, reject tougher measure suggested by Kriseman

Margie Manning

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Photo credit: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution that requires non-essential businesses in the county to close, unless they can comply with social distancing guidelines.

The commission rejected a plea from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who asked the county to adopt stronger language that would close all non-essential businesses.

Several people who said they owned businesses in the county asked commissioners to reject that stronger language, saying it would hurt their companies and the local economy.

The commission met in an emergency session Wednesday morning, in an effort to take measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus. While commissioners were meeting, the Florida Department of Health released updated figures that show there are now 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pinellas County, up five cases from 6 p.m. Tuesday. There has been one death in Pinellas County.

The county resolution, which will take effect 24 hours after adoption, or about mid-day Thursday, directs Pinellas County residents to limit non-essential activity and/or transportation to the following:

  • Primary or emergency care or direct care support for a family member, relative, friend, or their pet
  • Healthcare and medical services
  • Groceries
  • Meal take-outs from local food establishments
  • Essential work duties that cannot be performed from home
  • Banks and related financial institutions
  • Laundry services, laundromats
  • Essential home repairs and maintenance
  • Outdoor activity while following CDC guidelines (examples include: walking pet, hiking, biking)
  • Veterinarians and pet boarding facilities
  • Gas stations, auto-supply and auto-repair facilities

(See the full list of essential services, as defined in the resolution, below.)

The resolution also gives businesses leeway to continue operating, said Barry Burton, county administrator.

“If you are not an essential business you need to close, but it also provides that if you can employ social distancing practices in your business, you can remain open,” Burton said.

CDC social distancing guidelines call for people to be separated from others by six feet.

Burton said the resolution tries to strike a balance between public safety and economic impact.

“It’s an impossible task. To say you’re going to close someone’s business and put employees out of a job, there’s no good choice here. But if we don’t take more aggressive actions we know what’s going to occur,” Burton said. “We tried to find a balance, so this resolution says we need to take reasonable measures and we need to take reasonable risks.”

Kriseman told commissioners he doesn’t want to hurt small businesses, but the most important job of elected officials is public safety. He said the provision allowing businesses to stay open if they practiced social distancing was problematic because every business in the county could make a claim that they will maintain CDC social distancing guidelines.

Kriseman offered alternative language that said:

With respect to any for-profit or non-profit business entity (regardless of corporate structure or formation) operating within Pinellas County, such business entity is hereby ordered to cease operations within Pinellas County that require in-person attendance except as needed to provide Essential Business or Operation. To the extent that any business operations may be maintained by telecommuting or other remote means while allowing people to remain at Home, this order does not apply to such remote business activities.

The idea should be getting people to stay at home as much as they can unless they are going out because they have an essential need, Kriseman said.

“I believe it’s very hard to argue that getting a picture framed at a framing store, or buying a new mattress at a mattress store, or a book, whether it’s at Barnes & Noble or a small bookstore, is an essential service and that we want to make it OK for them to leave their homes and go to that store,” Kriseman said. “That defeats the whole purpose of what we’re trying to accomplish, which is to keep people as much as we can in their homes or around their homes so they are safe and they are not contaminating someone else.”

Kriseman offered an example of how the county’s measure as written could play out in St. Petersburg.

“If you know Central Avenue in St. Pete, you know there’s not only great restaurants, but some great galleries, clothing stores, antique shops. I see a weekend now where people are walking up and down Central, going from shop to shop because they’re still open. That one person [who doesn’t know] they’re positive, and they go into multiple shops, they’re infecting people in those multiple shops,” Kriseman said. “We’re trying to limit the opportunity for that to happen, keeping only essential businesses open … The quicker we are able to flatten the curve, the shorter the impact on the economy.”

County commissioners did not adopt Kriseman’s suggested language.

They did agree to incorporate in the resolution a proposal from Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, requiring every business that stays open to post a notice on the front door about the resolution. That also would help with enforcement, Gualtieri said.

The county resolution has the force of law. Violating the resolution would be a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, said Jewel White, county attorney.

The Pinellas County Commission was the first local government to approve a stay at home measure. As of mid-day Wednesday, Kriseman had not decided about a potential city order for St. Petersburg, a spokesman for the mayor said.

Closer look

The Pinellas County “Safer at Home” resolution defines essential services to include the following:

Healthcare providers and public health operations (except to the extent precluded by the Governor’s Executive Order 20-72 or any subsequent Executive Order), including but not limited to: hospitals; doctors’ and dentists’ offices; urgent care centers, clinics, and rehabilitation facilities; physical therapists; mental health professionals; psychiatrists; therapists; research and laboratory services; blood banks, medical cannabis facilities; medical equipment, devices, and other healthcare manufacturers and suppliers; reproductive health care providers; eye care centers; home healthcare services providers; substance abuse providers; medical transport services; and pharmacies;

Grocery stores, farmers’ markets, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, food banks, convenience stores, and other establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, baby products, pet supply, alcoholic beverages, fresh or frozen meats, fish, and tofu, and any other household consumer products (such as cleaning and personal care products). This authorization to remain open includes stores that sell groceries and also sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of residences and other structures;

Businesses engaged in food cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing;

Businesses that provide food, shelter, social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals;

Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services;

Gas stations, and auto-supply, and auto-repair facilities, as well as supply and repair facilities servicing bicycles;

Banks and related financial institutions;

Hardware, gardening, and building material stores;

Contractors and other tradesmen, building and apartment management and maintenance (including janitorial companies servicing commercial businesses), home security firms, fire and water damage restoration appliance repair personnel, exterminators, and other service providers (such as landscape and pool maintenance service providers) who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences and other structures;

Businesses primarily providing mailing, logistics, pick-up, and shipping services, including post office boxes;

Private colleges, trade schools, and technical colleges, but only as needed to facilitate online or distance learning, perform critical research, or perform essential functions, and university, college, or technical college residence halls, but only to the extent needed to accommodate students who cannot return to their Homes;

Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers;

Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but subject to the limitations and requirements of the Governor’s Executive Orders 20-68 and 20-71, and any subsequent Executive Orders.

Businesses that primarily supply office products needed for people to operate open businesses or work from home (but not including businesses that primarily sell or lease furniture);

Businesses that primarily supply other essential businesses and operations as stated in this Resolution, with the support or supplies necessary to operate, and which do not interact with the general public, including cybersecurity firms (but not including businesses that primarily sell or lease furniture);

Businesses that primarily ship or deliver groceries, food, goods, or services directly to residents;

Airlines, taxis, buses and other private transportation providers.

Businesses engaged in providing home-based care for seniors, adults, or children;

Assisted living facilities, nursing homes, adult day care centers, and home-based and residential settings for adults, seniors, children, and/or people with disabilities or mental illness;

Businesses providing professional services, such as legal or accounting services, to the extent those services comply with the social distancing requirements referenced herein;

Childcare facilities providing services that enable employees employed by employers exempted in this Resolution to work as permitted. Childcare facilities should operate under the following conditions: Childcare must be carried out in stable groups of 10 or fewer (inclusive of childcare providers for the group); children and childcare providers shall not change from one group to another; if more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group shall be in a separate room. Groups shall not mix or interact with each other, or have access to or use the same objects, materials, or surfaces without sanitization. All play equipment used by one group of children must be cleaned and sanitized before use by another group of children. Any child or employee exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 illness shall not be allowed to stay in the childcare facility.

Businesses operating at any airport, or other government facility, except as provided in the Governor’s Executive Order 20-71.

Logistics providers, including warehouses, trucking, consolidators, fumigators, and handlers;

Telecommunications providers, including sales of computer or telecommunications devices and the provision of home telecommunications;

Businesses engaged in the provision of propane or natural gas;

Businesses engaged in the provision of office space and administrative support necessary to perform any of the above-listed activities;

Businesses providing architectural, engineering, or land surveying services;

Factories, warehouses, manufacturing facilities, bottling plants, or other industrial distribution and supply chain facilities used for essential products and industries for the U.S. domestic market;

Waste management services, including businesses engaged primarily in the collection and disposal of waste;

Hotels, motels, other commercial lodging establishments, and temporary vacation rentals, subject to the limitations stated in the Governor’s Executive Order 20-71.

Veterinarians and pet boarding facilities;

Mortuaries, funeral homes, and cemeteries including funeral and cremation services;

Businesses providing services to any local, state, or federal government, pursuant to a contract with such government and provided such services relate directly to a governmental response to the COVID-19 crisis;

Electrical production and distribution services.

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