More Pinellas Businesses Can Open With Restrictions

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Pinellas County Commissioners agreed Friday to follow Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first phase of “reopening” Florida by voting unanimously to allow some local businesses to open at 25 percent capacity and with 6-foot social distancing.

The Commission also voted to extend the county’s state-of-emergency status, with the recommendation that residents wear masks in public, as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread and claim lives.

Under Gov. DeSantis’ order announced this week some businesses such as restaurants and retail stores that were shutdown last month can reopen on Monday with limited capacity and social distancing.

Museums and libraries are also allowed to be open under the same restrictions.

Still closed are businesses that involve close contact such as salons, dance studios, barber shops, massage studios, movie theaters, gyms, tattoo parlors, concert venues, bars, pubs, and amusement centers.

Counties and cities can invoke their own restrictions but Pinellas Commissioners voted Friday to rescind the county’s original safe-at-home order and follow the Governor’s order. The county’s order has been in effect since March 25.

Earlier this week, Commissioners voted to open the county’s beaches beginning Monday, May 4.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said they spent more than five hours Thursday trying to determine what could and could not be open and still be in compliance with the Governor’s plan.

Gualtieri said they tried to interpret the Governor’s order “in the most liberally construed way” to allow as many businesses as possible to open under the restrictions.

“The key is social distancing and following the 25 percent capacity, ” Burton said.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters questioned why yoga studios and dance studios couldn’t open because those businesses could meet the restrictions and they were not singled out in the Governor’s order.

Gualtieri said that the Governor only named a few specific types of businesses and the order “was clear as mud.”

“Everything that was non-essential remains non-essential,” Gualtieri said. “And yoga studios are non-essential and the only thing in the non-essential category that can reopen is retail goods and store fronts.”

“Sheriff, I hear you,” said Peters. “But I just wish you could be a little more flexible and generous on that because he (the Governor} said ‘I did not close any businesses down. The municipalities did that. I said they could be open.’ But that’s not what we interpreted.”

Commissioner Janet Long said she felt like the Governor was “throwing us under the bus” with that comment.

Burton and Gualtieri also expressed frustration over the Governor’s comments and orders.

“The Governor’s orders have been difficult to interpret and we have had to apply some judgment to that,” Burton said. “It’s not perfect, but we’re doing the best we can. In five hours, we went over hundreds and hundreds of types of examples of things that we could face.”

Burton said that the county will soon post a “no list” of things that will remain closed and anything that is not on the list will be allowed.

Burton said that things will change, and, while the Governor did not give a timetable for the second phase of his plan, the changes could come within weeks.

Walt spent 35 years as a reporter, feature writer. TV critic and columnist for The Tampa Tribune. Prior to that he worked in the public relations office at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and as a reporter for The Greenville (SC) News. He and his wife, Debbie, have lived in Safety Harbor for 10 years. He also taught media writing courses at the University of Tampa. Since moving here, he has been active with the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, hosting a monthly storytelling night.