UPDATED: 03/26/20 3:06 p.m.
Hillsborough County finally has an official stay-at-home order, and it starts at 10 p.m. on Friday, March 27.
The order passed on an 8-0 vote during a Thursday afternoon meeting of the county’s Emergency Policy Group, which is made up of leaders from the county including Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
An amendment to officially call it a "safer-at-home" order also passed 8-0.
Like a similar order passed in Pinellas on Wednesday, Hillsborough’s “safer-at-home” order asks residents to stay home except when performing essential tasks, like getting groceries, liquor, or going to the doctor. Residents would still be allowed to go outside to exercise.
All City of Tampa park and park facilities will be closed when the order starts, until further notice.
The order applies to residents of Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City and unincorporated Hillsborough County.
The order will stay in effect for as long as the county’s state of emergency is in effect (meaning it will be up for renewal by the county every seven days.)
Under the order, residents who work in essential services and industries will sill be allowed to go to work. Hillsborough's definition of "essential services" includes those in Homeland Security's definition of "essential services" and more.
As described by the City of Tampa, essential services include government, healthcare and public service sectors, critical infrastructure workers and support services for necessary activities.
The group is leery of the word “curfew,” but the order also includes a [substitute whatever word you want for “curfew” here] that restricts movement 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Essential tasks can still be performed under the order, and residents are asked to follow social distancing guidelines and the six-foot rule when they are outside of their homes.
Semantics in the age of coronavirus pic.twitter.com/ZzfmtqPZ0Y— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) March 26, 2020
Sheriff Chronister also added that the county would not become a police state with checkpoints, and was adamant that the public know that “placards or paperwork from any law enforcement agency are not required to move about.”
Critics of the “safer-at-home” order say that it leans too heavily on personal responsibility. During the meeting, a city attorney said that the order is enforceable by police, if voluntary compliance fails.
As Times reporter Charlie Frago put it, "Essentially, county emergency policy group just approved Mayor Castor's plan, which they shot down on Monday. Four days later."
The group’s decision comes after it stumbled in a Monday meeting before using a Wednesday meeting to decide on merely voting on the order today.
Scientists and doctors have warned that inaction and delays in keeping people away from each other will accelerate spread of the coronavirus and overwhelm a healthcare system that’s already begging for supplies from the federal government. When that happens, as it has in Italy, healthcare professionals will be forced to make decisions about who lives and who dies.
Other states, including California and New York, have issued lockdowns in response to the coronavirus. Gov. Ron DeSantis—who shut down bars and restaurants, cut off visitation at nursing homes and prisons and ordered senior citizens to stay home—is being criticized for not doing more to protect Floridian from COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the virus that can be deadly for seniors and people with serious health conditions.
Municipalities like Tampa and St. Petersburg have been sparring with their home counties over enacting stay-at-home orders for the last two weeks.
On Wednesday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman blasted Pinellas’ “safer-at-home” order, saying it does not go far enough.
“You can rebuild economies, but you can’t bring back people,” Kriseman said, alluding to the coronavirus pandemic that’s killed 28 people in Florida as of Thursday morning. On Tuesday, before Hillsborough County finally agreed to vote on the order today, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor was eyeing a stay-at-home order for Tampa only.
And this morning, Castor and Kriseman issued a joint PSA urging unity in Tampa Bay; they also reminded residents to wash their hands frequently, disinfect surfaces, practice social distancing, and stay home as much as they can.
“Mayor Kriseman and I are on the same page when it comes to protecting our cities, our communities, and our region,” said Castor. “This virus knows no boundaries, and it can only be stopped if we all work together. That means working proactively—on both sides of the bridge—to flatten the curve.”
“This public health emergency is a test of our strength and resilience. We are confident our residents will do the right thing and remain safe at home as much as possible in order to get our cities back to normal as soon as possible,” Kriseman added.
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