Pinellas extends local state of emergency another week

Pinellas County has extended its local state of emergency through May 15 as it continues its fight against COVID-19.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously May 5 to extend the local state of emergency for another week, making it effective through 3 p.m. May 15.

The county will continue to follow the guidance contained in the recent order by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which was intended to start the state on its road to recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

County Administrator Barry Burton told commissioners the number of new COVID-19 cases was continuing to fall with new cases per day much less than they were during the peak in April. He said the percentage of tests coming back positive was about 2%, adding that testing in the county was starting to ramp up.

Commissioner Dave Eggers asked for an update about the county’s long-term care facilities, which have reported an outbreak in cases and deaths in recent weeks.

Burton said as of Sunday there were 157 positive cases in the facilities. He also said first responders had done inspections at many of them to make sure they had the personal protective equipment they need to maintain safe operations.

Department of Health Director in Pinellas Dr. Ulyee Choe said staff was working to address any problems. He said 157 facilities had been inspected. He said experts were being brought in to assist at any that were not meeting standards.

Commissioner Ken Welch asked about testing and wanted to know if demographic information was available about those being tested. He would like to see information based on race and ZIP codes.

Choe said there were limitations on demographic information that would be available due to the many different labs that do the testing. Burton said the county’s data analysis team could look into it.

Welch also asked about the recommendation that people wear face masks. He wanted to know if information was going out about the type of facemasks to wear and when to wear them. Burton said the Marketing and Communications Department was including it in its messaging along with other information on washing hands and other safety measures.

Review of the governor’s order

The commission made no changes from its May 1 decision to follow the governor’s order, which allowed some local businesses to start reopening on May 4.

The governor’s order allowed restaurants to reopen their dining rooms with a maximum occupancy of 25% of their building capacity. Restaurants also may serve food and beverages in outdoor seating areas as long as the tables are spaced 6 feet apart. Groups of more than 10 are not allowed inside or outside to maintain social distancing guidelines.

DeSantis’ order also allows retail establishments to reopen their stores; however, the same as restaurants, occupancy is limited to 25% of the stated building occupancy. Unlimited curbside delivery and pickup is still allowed. Social distancing is required with no groups larger than 10 spaced 6 feet apart.

Museums and libraries also can open with a maximum occupancy of 25%. Interactive functions and exhibits, and child play areas must remain closed.

Vacation rentals in homes and condominiums remain prohibited by the governor’s order, which does not apply to hotels, motels or other public lodging.

Bars, pubs and nightclubs remain closed. For that reason, no bar seating will be allowed in restaurants; however, they can open the tabletop areas.

Other business and services that remain closed under the governor’s order are:

• Arcade and video/game rooms

• Day/beauty spa services

• Hair salon services (including braiding, hair cutting and styling)

• Nail salon services

• Barber shop services

• Fitness, dance, Pilates, and yoga studios and gyms

• Massage (unless directed by a medical provider)

• Painting, craft, or art studios

• Tattoo and piercing services

• Bowling

• Zoos

• Pool halls

• Concert and music halls

• Locations with amusement rides and/or water parks

• Movie and other theaters (including adult entertainment theaters)

Successful beach reopening

Pinellas reopened its beaches on May 4, and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told commissioners it was a successful day.

He said it had been a busy day, especially for a Monday in May. He said beachgoers had followed the social distancing rules, keeping 6 feet apart in groups of 10 or less. He said the Mother’s Day weekend would be “the greatest challenge.”

“But with the public’s continued cooperation and good spirits, we’ll be OK,” he said.

He talked about the 300 law enforcement officers deployed along the 35 miles of beaches and said they would continue to be present on the sand, at access points and in parking lots through the first week. Then he’ll reevaluate the need.

“We’re on the right track and have the right resources in place,” he said.

He has asked the state to increase the allowed capacity at Honeymoon Island State Park. The Department of Environmental Protection allowed the park to open at 50% capacity, about 3,000 visitors. He said with more capacity people can spread out more and be able to maintain social distancing without pushing the crowd onto the Dunedin Causeway, which had been “thick (with people) but not unmanageable.”

On all the beaches, law enforcement will monitor the crowds and ask people to move to areas less populated if necessary, he said. The goal is to create a controlled environment.

He again cautioned people to not judge capacity based on photos taken from the ground. He showed photos taken from the air versus those taken on the sand. He said some ground photos made it look like areas were crowded versus the same areas showing people were spread out when taken from the helicopter.

Gualtieri is confident his plans will create a situation where people can maintain social distancing.

“I look forward to a successful opening week,” he said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.