Florida begins first day of 30-day stay-at-home order

The Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks was virtually empty on March 30, in light of COVID-19 imposed restrictions. The historic district is typically teeming with tourists at this time of year, according to local business owner and City Commissioner Rea Sieber. Streets are likely to remain empty until at least the end of the month under the governor's stay at home order.

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order that began Friday, April 3, and continues through the end of the month.

Under the executive order, people are required to stay home and “limit their movements and personal interactions to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential businesses.”

In addition, the governor’s order says senior citizens and individuals with a significant underlying medical conditions (such as chronic lung disease, moderate-to-severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised status, cancer, diabetes, severe obesity, renal failure and liver disease) shall stay at home and take all measures to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

However, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri pointed out that “senior citizen” was not defined in the governor’s order. That’s the first of several concerns local officials have with the governor’s stay-at-home order.

The governor's office released FAQs about the stay-at-home order Friday night that said seniors and those with significant medical conditions could leave their homes to obtain essential services or conduct essential activities.

Pinellas County commissioners and the sheriff are troubled due to what they say is a lack of clarity in the governor’s order, which didn’t actually close nonessential services and businesses. It instead regulates the movement of people, meaning no one, including employees, is allowed to be somewhere deemed nonessential.

To help define exactly how the governor’s order affected people, the County Commission voted on April 2 to close all nonessential businesses and services, starting April 3. That order continues until April 10, at which time it will likely be extended. It is in addition to the local state of emergency and safer-at-home order that also were extended to April 10.

The state is using a list from the Department of Homeland Security and those included in an executive order in effect in Miami-Dade County to determine what is an essential business and service. But those lists are long and hard to navigate.

And, what may or may not be essential is subject to debate. But essential is everything included in the governor’s order. The county cannot make changes to that, but the state can amend it.

To assist the public, county staff and the sheriff’s office made a list of what would be considered nonessential. It may not include everything, officials say.

Nonessential businesses and services that must close under the governor’s order and the County Commission’s order include the following:

• Acupuncture (unless service is under the care of a medical provider)

• Antique stores

• Auction houses

• Automotive tint, wash, detail, and accessory businesses

• Beauty supply and skin care stores

• Boat dealerships, rentals, and charters; kayak sales and rentals

• Bookstores

• Clothing and shoe retail, rental, or consignment

• Craft, art, and hobby supply stores

• Day/Beauty spas, hair or nail salons, and barber shops

• Décor and Lighting sales businesses

• Entertainment establishments

• Florist businesses

• Fitness, Dance, Pilates, and Yoga studios and gyms

• Furniture stores

• Jewelry stores and jewelry repair businesses

• Massage (unless service is under the care of a medical provider)

• Music and instrument stores; music lesson providers

• Museums

• Optical retail stores (non-prescription)

• Painting, craft, or art studios

• Pet grooming businesses (including mobile and those co-located with pet retail stores)

• Pet sales and adoptions as a primary business (excluding on premises animal care)

• Smoke, tobacco, CBD, or vape stores

• Spa and hot tub sales businesses

• Sporting goods sales and repair businesses

• Stereo installation and sales businesses

• Tailors and alterations

• Tattoo and piercing services

• Toy retail stores, game, or amusement rental businesses

• Vitamin stores (unless service is under the care of a medical provider)

• Yard, garage, and estate sales

List was updated April 7

Essential business and services

The list of essential businesses and services, according to the governor’s order, includes:

• AA/NA and other meetings (requires social distancing)

• Animal shelters/adoptions at shelters

• Automobile dealerships, repairs and maintenance, auto parts stores

• Banks and financial institutions

• Bicycle sales, repairs and maintenance

• Community based organizations providing meals and social services

• Firearm sales and ranges

• First Responders, Police and Fire, Jails and Prisons

• Flight schools (only if located on airport property)

• Food and beverage (grocery stores, food banks, alcohol sales, restaurants: delivery, take-out or curbside pickup

• Funeral services

• Garbage and Sanitation services

• Gas Stations

• Government operations

• Hardware, garden and supply stores

• Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare operations

• Hotel and lodging

• Human Service operations (including community-based organizations providing meals)

• Insurance

• Laundromats

• Law Firms (only for meeting court-ordered deadlines)

• Manufacturing facilities

• Moving companies

• Post offices and shipping services

• Process servers

• Realtors

• Stores: batteries, cell phone, electronics, light bulbs and office supplies

• Tax preparation services

• Telemarketing (requires social distancing)

• Title companies

• Transportation: airports, ride sharing, taxis, and public transportation such as PSTA

• Utilities, Public Works and essential infrastructure

• Veterinarians

• Warehouses: food distribution, food manufacture, and product distribution

• Other service providers, such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, security personnel, damage restoration, appliance repair personnel, landscape and pool maintenance service providers

List updated April 7

Essential activities

Another list provides what are considered essential activities under the governor and county’s order. It includes, but is not limited to:

• Attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues, or houses of worship

• Caring for or otherwise assisting a loved one or a friend

• Recreational boating (boat ramps, marinas, and bait/tackle shops may remain open)

• Taking care of pets

• Participating in recreational activities.

People are still allowed, and encouraged, to continue to continue with recreation activities, as long as they follow social distancing guidelines (groups of 10 or less with people spaced six-feet apart). These activities include: walking, biking, hiking, fishing, golfing (golf courses may remain open) hunting or swimming.

Those participating in recreational boating should be aware that Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has issued an executive order limiting occupancy on vessels to no more than 10 with a minimum distance of 50 feet between each vessel. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has a video showing many breaking that rule.

Pinellas County Parks and Preserves will remain open, except for Sand Key Park, Fort De Soto Park and the education centers at Weedon Island Preserve and Brooker Creek Preserve. Boat ramps will also remain open, including the ramp at Fort De Soto Park. The County is requiring that community pools remain closed. The beaches remain closed.

Social distancing

The county’s order gives County Administrator Barry Burton the power to close a business that refuses to follow social distancing guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Businesses also must follow sanitation and hygiene practices.

The public also must follow social distancing guidelines and people are strongly encouraged to wash their hands, keep their hands away from their face and keep surfaces clean at home.

Social distancing means that people must limit groups to less than 10 people and those people, unless they are all family members, must remain six feet apart.

“This must be adhered to in a practical way while using common sense,” according to information from the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff provided some examples and clarifications to the guidelines. For example, more than 10 people are allowed at grocery stores, churches and parks, but they must be spaced six feet apart unless they are family members.

The sheriff provided other examples of what is allowed, including having eight people in a doctor’s office who are not family members, as long as they stay six feet apart. A husband and wife can sit next to each other if they stay six feet away from others.

Families of less than 10 can sit together in the same pew at church as long as each member of the family is six feet away from non-family members. Non-family members at church must adhere to the spacing rules.

At the grocery store, it is prohibited to have more than 10 people who are not part of the same family gathered at one place in the store, such as the deli counter.

It is prohibited to have groups of people standing less than six feet apart along a rail or on a pier watching the sunset. More than 10 people could be in those locations, if some are family members and groups stay spread apart.

Control the spread

All these measures aim to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Health officials say that social distancing is the best weapon available at this time against the coronavirus, which has spread around the world. More than 1 million cases have been reported worldwide with 54,369 deaths.

In the United States, 321,762 cases had been reported as of Sunday morning with 8,503 deaths. Nearly 1.25 million had been reported worldwide with 66,542 deaths.

Florida Department of Health reported 12,151 cases with 218 as of Sunday morning. Pinellas had 347 cases and eight deaths.

Department of Health in Pinellas Director Ulyee Choe continues to urge the public to practice social distancing and stay at home when possible to try to stop the number of cases that are growing each day. Current models show the growth of COVID-19 peaking in Florida on May 2.

“We’re hopeful the peak won’t be as high with (preventative) practices in place,” he said.

Revised to update the lists of nonessential and essential services.