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Pinellas County lifts restrictions on beaches, extends CARES individual financial aid program

Margie Manning

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Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (left) and Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter on Clearwater Beach on May 24. (Photo credit: Clearwater Police Department Twitter feed)

Pinellas County officials say they are shifting away from regulation and emphasizing personal responsibility as they continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board of County Commissioners repealed Pinellas County restrictions on beaches, playground equipment at childcare facilities and hotel pools, effective today. County restrictions on other public pools will be lifted on Monday, June 1. County playgrounds will reopen Monday as well.

The restrictions were put in place in March in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and allow hospitals to better handle cases of the illness. Case counts now are relatively stable and hospital capacity has improved, Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health-Pinellas County, told commissioners.

While the local restrictions were removed, the facilities still have to comply with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “full phase one” reopening plan, which says people should not gather in groups larger than 10 people and should maintain a six-foot distance from others. The county will continue to urge the public to follow federal health guidelines, including wearing cloth face coverings while indoors in public, according to a resolution approved by the board.

“We talk about what is a reasonable level of risk,” said County Administrator Barry Burton. “We had to get over this curve and find out where this pandemic is going, but we also have to look at the numbers and accept when is the right time to move to that new normal, and saying you need to be responsible. If you are going to lounge in a pool, you probably should sanitize that lounge chair before you sit down. It’s shifting from a regulatory approach, which is closing the pools, to a recommendation that we highly encourage you to use masks, use sanitation equipment and make sure you keep yourself responsible.”

Signage will remain in place at Pinellas beaches, reminding people to maintain social distance guidelines, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

“People are doing a great job themselves,” Gualtieri said. “By and large the absolute majority of people are doing the right thing and if not, they just need a slight reminder and there are people out there who can do that. It doesn’t require enforcement. People want to be healthy, and we see people take it on themselves to do that.”

The board also extended the local state of emergency from May 29 to June 5, a move that allows the county to continue to receive federal funds and take any action necessary as part of the pandemic, Burton said.

Commissioners separately extended the Pinellas CARES program, which provides financial assistance for individuals, to June 30. The program offers up $4,000 for one-time financial assistance to low-income individuals and families who have lost jobs or significant income due to Covid-19, to help pay for overdue rent, mortgage and utility bills.

It was scheduled to expire June 1, but has not been utilized as much as anticipated, Burton said.

Commissioners also extended the Pinellas CARES small business grant program to June 30.

Burton is collecting suggestions from a task force working on a second phase of Pinellas CARES, which could launch at the end of June, he said.

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