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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Pinellas County officials decided to issue a "safer-at-home" resolution for residents to safely practice social distancing as the county finds ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. It begins Thursday.
The resolution will last for one week, but commissioners could extend it. They are asking residents to stay home except for essential activities. Also, businesses -- the ones that were not ordered to close by the Florida governor -- can remain open.
Take-out meals from restaurants and playing golf at a golf course can still happen as long as people are socially distance -- meaning there must be six feet between people. Otherwise, you can face a second-degree misdemeanor.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the resolution isn't tough enough because it doesn't shut down "non-essential businesses," stating the language allows any business to stay open.
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"This safer-at-home policy does not close any business, because every business in the county can make a claim that they will maintain CDC guidelines," Kriseman said. "As many officers as the sheriff has … as I have, there are not enough to make sure they are following CDC guidelines."
He said he doesn't believe every business is essential enough for people to leave their homes.
"This defeats the whole purpose of people staying at home," he said. "We have to make a choice between public safety and health and small businesses, if we're truly going to flatten the curve…unfortunately we have to take that action."
Kriseman proposed alternative language for the resolution to include closing non-essential businesses, but commissioners chose not to adopt it.
Pinellas County commissioners unanimously approved "safer-at-home" resolution.
"If this is really going to make a difference, this is what we need to do," he said.
Commissioners passed the resolution Wednesday morning. It includes language that would allow law enforcement to enforce criminal violations and fines if a business or person isn't complying. This includes if there are large gatherings and if non-essential businesses are not practicing social distancing.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said it is important for businesses to police themselves, but approved of the resolution as it was written. He suggested posting notices on all retail store doors explaining the resolution and CDC guidelines for customers.
"The last thing we need to do is shut down businesses on top of what they're dealing with," he said during the commission meeting.
On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County announced its first death in the county, a 67-year-old resident.
"We have yet to peak. With some of the social distancing policies, it does take a week to see the fruits of that policy," said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health for the county. "We're dealing with a virus that is novel. We don’t have a treatment. We don't have a vaccine."
"I can't envy the position you have as policy makers. We haven't seen anything like this since 1918," he added.
Commissioner Kenneth Welch said the coronavirus response is different than how the commission handles a tropical storm or hurricane, because there isn't accurate data. With a lack of test kits and medical supplies, not everyone can get tested.
"The stories we're hearing and seeing on national news is really about our health system not really being able to deal with any sustained outbreak…because we don't have the basic equipment," he said. "This is unprecedented. This is life and death. Like a hurricane, this is going to have an economic impact. Our inaction can cost lives."
Commissioners acknowledged there are people who are following the social distancing guidelines, but others are not.
"There are people being responsible and some people who are being irresonsible. We have to even the playing field," said Pat Gerard, commission chair.
Commissioner Janet Long said she is insulted by residents who say the commissioners aren't doing enough.
"For anyone to suggest we are not taking this seriously, I want you to know we take this personally," she said. "For people who say this is just like the flu…that is making me nuts."
An emergency meeting will be held again next week to determine if the "safer-at-home" resolution should be extended.
"We're dealing with a pandemic here," Gerard added. "This is not a joke."
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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