TAMPA, Fla. - With phase one of Florida's reopening plan moving forward on May 4, it's time for city and county leaders to determine how to apply the governor's directive at the local level. In Hillsborough County, that means extending the local safer-at-home order just enough to match the timing of the statewide order.
The governor's order does not supersede local rule, meaning counties and cities have the power to keep restrictions in place after Monday if they feel it necessary to do so.
Hillsborough's Emergency Policy Group met Thursday to decide how to move forward. The group was generally supportive of the governor's plan, but there was some discussion about whether to extend the existing local order, which was due to expire tomorrow.
“Either we’re going to get behind the governor’s leadership or we’re not. That’s what this vote is about today,” offered Plant City mayor Rick Lott “I think we just need a clear message here.”
“I see no point in this,” Tampa mayor Jane Castor countered, pointing out that the governor's order was nearly identical to the local order, making it redundant.
Ultimately, the group voted 7 to 1 -- with Castor the lone dissenter -- to extend the local safer-at-home order until Monday in order to minimize confusion among the public. The order will be rescinded as of Monday morning when phase one of the governor's plan begins.
Earlier this week, the county extended its county office closures through May 15, but that does not impact the other orders.
The EPG is scheduled to meet again on Monday.
Even though certain businesses and activities can hit the restart button -- with social distancing guidelines remaining in place -- EPG members cautioned that residents must continue to focus on the strategies that helped avoid overwhelming the healthcare system. Social distancing, wearing masks and personal responsibility are going to remain a priority.
PARKS AND BOAT RAMPS TO REOPEN
On Thursday afternoon, the county also announced it will reopen most of its nature preserves and the boat ramp at E.G. Simmons Conservation Park on Saturday, May 2. A full list of Hillsborough County's nature preserves can be found here.
On Monday at 8 a.m., the following conservation parks, will reopen:
- Flatwoods Conservation Park, 14302 Morris Bridge Road, Thonotosassa, and 18205 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa
- Morris Bridge Off-Road Biking Area, 12651 Morris Bridge Road, Thonotosassa
- Alderman’s Ford Conservation Park, 100 Alderman’s Ford Park Drive, Plant City, for hiking and biking only
- Upper Tampa Bay Trail and all parking areas
The following walking trails at six neighborhood parks, will also reopen on Monday at 8 a.m.:
- Jackson Springs Community Center, 8620 Jackson Springs Road, Tampa
- Northdale Community Center, 15550 Spring Pine Drive, Tampa
- Carrollwood Village Community Park, 4680 W. Village Drive, Tampa
- Ruskin Community Center, 901 6th St. SE, Ruskin
- Apollo Beach Community Center, 664 Golf and See Blvd., Apollo Beach
- All People’s Life Center, 6105 E. Sligh Ave., Tampa
County leaders maintain that residents must still follow social distancing guidelines. All other parks will remain closed.
Mayor Castor said Tampa would have an update on city parks on Friday.
In an appearance on CNN's 'The Situation Room,' on Wednesday night, Castor seemed open to the idea of reopening businesses in line with the governor's plan.
"I do believe we can safely follow that plan," she said. "The testing has been ramped up and we have the contact tracing in place. I think the best aspect of this opening up is that it is a very, very slow rollout. So, if we see an increase in cases we will be able to tighten back down very quickly."
The chairman of the Hillsborough County EPG, Les Miller, expressed approval of the governor's plan as well, though he did say he wished there were more emphasis on masks.
Gov. Ron DeSantis recently commended Hillsborough County's response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying it is better off than other parts of the country in terms of the number of infections.
“Of any major county, this is one of the best performing counties, not just in the state of Florida, but probably in the country,” DeSantis said Monday.
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