CLEARWATER — About 200 Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies along with officers from Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs police departments spent the morning of March 26 posting notices on local businesses informing them of new rules imposed by the County Commission in its fight to halt the spread of COVID-19.
County commissioners unanimously approved a “safer at home” order March 25 that became effective at noon Thursday. The order requires that residents and guests comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to stay 6 feet away from other people and to limit gatherings to less than 10.
Everyone is ordered to stay at home and only go out for necessities, such as medical care for people and pets, groceries, take-out food, essential work duties that can’t be done from home, banking, laundry, essential home repairs, home maintenance, pet boarding, gas stations, auto supply and auto-repairs.
People are allowed to do outdoor activities as long as they maintain social distancing. Golf courses and tennis courts are open, as are many parks, hiking and biking trails.
However, the order closed several businesses with no exceptions, including “places of public assembly,” such as publicly accessible pools, including those at hotels, apartments and condominiums; as well as locations with amusement rides, carnivals, water parks, zoos, museums, arcades, fairs, children’s play centers, playground equipment, theme parks, bowling alleys, pool halls, movie and other theaters, concert and music halls, country clubs, social clubs and fraternal organizations.
Essential businesses can remain open and are encouraged to maintain social distancing as much as possible. Nonessential businesses that don’t fall under the “places of public assembly” also can stay open as long as they comply with CDC guidelines.
Those nonessential businesses are the ones local law enforcement will be monitoring closely to make sure they comply.
Pinellas County Commission Chair Pat Gerard, County Administrator Barry Burton, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos participated in a media briefing at the Clearwater Mall on Gulf to Bay Boulevard on Thursday afternoon.
Gerard encouraged the public to help the county keep everyone as safe as possible.
“Behave as if you have the disease,” she advised.
Cretekos called current conditions a “temporary inconvenience.”
“These are unprecedented times,” he said. “Let’s work together to bring this pandemic to an end.”
Gualtieri said the County Commission had taken “bold action” when it asked everyone who can stay home to do so, adding that some people do still have to go out to get necessities or to work.
But to those who don’t have to go out or businesses that aren’t complying with the rules, he had this message.
“We’re not playing around. This is serious,” he said, adding that he was asking all businesses to help keep the county safe or the county commission would likely take action to lock things down.
Currently the county is not locked down, but that could change, he said.
Health experts say that the peak of infection for the coronavirus has not yet occurred. The county is serious about doing all it can to keep its number of confirmed cases down.
The state Department of Health reported 10 additional cases in Pinellas on Thursday morning, bringing the total to 64 with one death. The first two cases were confirmed March 11.
The sheriff is most concerned about businesses such as hair and nail salons and barber shops where people are normally in close proximity. He said a salon with 10 chairs could only allow maybe two to three customers at a time and could only have two or three in a waiting area.
He said complaints had come in about a bookstore that had allowed crowds of people to congregate. People are not staying spaced out appropriately at grocery stores.
“We need to do it better or all will be shut down,” Gualtieri said.
The sheriff has a tip line where people can report businesses that aren’t following the rules. The public can call 727-582-TIPS (8477) from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. seven days a week. The sheriff said he has 18 people available to answer those calls.
He has three to four compliance teams made up of four to five people who will investigate. He said he has plenty of personnel to do the job because courts are not in session and schools are closed, freeing up school resource officers.
He said if violations are confirmed, deputies can act accordingly.
“We can do this easy way or the hard way,” he said, adding that the county administrator can shut things down if he has to do so.
He said it was disappointing that after closing the public beaches, people had ignored the seriousness of the pandemic and taken their parties to the spoil islands and sand bars, as well as pools at hotels, apartments and condominiums.
“Please work with us and do the right thing and abide by the ordinance,” he said.
To see a copy of the ordinance and get answers to frequently asked questions, visit www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/covid19/default.htm.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.