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Pinellas County opens movie theaters with limits, proposes vacation rental plan

Margie Manning



Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

Movie theaters in Pinellas County can open with restrictions, under guidance issued Monday by top county officials.

The county also is seeking approval of a plan to allow short-term vacation rentals to open, starting this week.

The moves come amid a gradual reopening of businesses that were closed or restricted their operations in late March and early April to slow the spread of Covid-19. Backers of efforts to reopen businesses say the moves are needed to get laid-off workers back on the job and boost the economy, but there is also concern that reopening too quickly could lead to more cases of Covid-19 and a spike that could hamper the ability of medical professionals to treat people who get sick.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order moving the state into a “full Phase One” reopening plan effective May 18 and allowing retail, restaurants, libraries, museums, gyms and fitness centers to open at half capacity. Professional sports venues also could open, the governor said.

“That brings us into full Phase One. I think the only thing we’re not doing that the president’s guidelines permitted were the movie theaters,” DeSantis said at a news conference Friday in Jacksonville. “And I’m not saying we’re never going to do that, but I believe and I’ve been a broken record on this, when you’re in enclosed indoor environments, the virus is just more transmissible. So how you would socially distance in there — I’m not saying it can’t be done but I would probably need a little more information on that before I pull the trigger on that.”

The St. Pete Catalyst asked Burton about the Pinellas County guidance that allows movie theaters to open with limits, despite the governor’s comments.

“The Governor’s Order 20-123 says we are in full phase one under his Reopen Florida plan. Under the category of large venue, movie theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, etc … are open at 50 percent capacity and social distancing,” Burton wrote in an email to the Catalyst. “I could not find anywhere in his written order that requires movie theaters to remain closed.”

In addition to limits on capacity and social distancing requirements, the Pinellas County guidance says cleaning and disinfecting are required and masks must be worn by employees at movie theaters, concert halls, auditoriums, bowling alleys, arcades, playhouses, and casinos.

The county guidance also allows large spectator sporting events up to 25 percent capacity. See the full Pinellas County guidance here.

Pinellas County, in coordination with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, also submitted a health and safety plan to Florida officials on Monday to reopen vacation rentals.

Related story: Hard-hit hospitality, tourism businesses in the spotlight

Tourism is a primary economic driver for the county, supporting more than 100,000 jobs and contributing more than $9 billion to the local economy, Burton wrote in a letter to state officials detailing the plan.

“One quick way to restore Pinellas County is for you to support the reopening of short-term vacation rentals to Florida residents and out-of-state visitors. The diversity of our lodging product is an important element to bringing back employment as well as visitors,” Burton said.

The Pinellas County plan highlights concerns about vacationers who come from areas DeSantis has designed as high-risk, including the New York area, with one of the highest Covid-19 per capita rates in the nation. The county plan says vacation rental reservations from those areas must be for periods long than the quarantine period established in the governor’s executive orders.

It also calls for vacation rental staff to be trained on safety standards, and lists more than two dozen precautions. It says guests should be advised to practice social distancing. The full plan is here.

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater said the county hopes to get state approval today for the plan so that vacation rentals could open effective immediately.

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