CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously May 28 to extend the local state of emergency until June 5 and, in a separate unanimous vote, passed a resolution that lifts local restrictions on beaches, public swimming pools and playgrounds.
The plan is to use the restrictions contained in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statewide order that address social distancing and sanitation recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Restrictions at the beaches, playgrounds at daycare centers and pools at hotels will be lifted as of 3 p.m. May 28.
Restrictions at public playgrounds and other public pools, including those at condominiums, will be lifted on Monday, June 1.
The resolution includes strong recommendations for all individuals, businesses, operations and organizations to follow the governor’s orders and comply with CDC’s social distancing and disinfection recommendations, as well as personal protections, including sanitation and hygiene, such as hand washing. The commission also strongly encourages the public to wear cloth masks while in indoor public places.
In the resolution presented by County Administrator Barry Burton, hotel pools were included in the list of restrictions to be lifted on June 1; however, Commissioner Kathleen Peters asked that the restriction on hotel pools be lifted sooner due to staffing problems at local hotels.
Commissioner Ken Welch asked if data trends supported lifting the restrictions. He wanted to make sure the action was a “reasonable move at this time and an acceptable level or risk.”
Burton said staff believed it was time to lift the restrictions. He said the level of positive tests for COVID-19 was less than 2% with most of the cases coming from long-term care facilities, which was a separate issue from community spread.
Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Department of Health in Pinellas County, said the case counts were stable. Hospital capacity was improving. The number of positive tests was decreasing, and the number of people coming to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms had declined.
He said as more things reopen, DOH would continue to monitor the situation.
Welch asked about the plan to keep public playground equipment sanitized.
Choe said parents would be encouraged to use good hand hygiene and take disinfectant wipes to help keep the equipment clean.
Welch also asked what would happen at the beaches, especially if the governor lifted the requirement to follow CDC recommendations.
County Attorney Jewel White said the resolution continues to recommend people follow CDC guidelines. She said the county was shifting from a regulatory posture to more of a stance of using personal responsibility.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the yellow signs at the beaches would stay in place and messaging on social media would continue. He believes the signs have been effective.
Burton said the county would be putting up signs at the county’s playgrounds and had recommended that the municipalities do the same.
When asked about enforcement on the beaches, Gualtieri said local law enforcement would continue to work to educate the public and remind people about the need for social distancing. He said so far, there had been only a few issues at the beaches.
“People want to be safe. They want to be healthy,” he said.
He thinks the governor is close to going to phase two of the state’s recovery, which will increase the number of people in groups from 10 to 50.
“I’m confident people will act responsibly,” he said.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.