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NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County declared a local state of emergency Thursday morning, giving broad powers to its administrative staff to maintain public health in the wake of a Land O’ Lakes man contracting the coronavirus.
The declaration, approved by county commissioners in an emergency meeting, came at the request of the state Division of Emergency Management. It allows County Administrator Dan Biles and Emergency Management director Andrew Fossa to waive normal procedures to do what is considered necessary, including ordering curfews, to aid the state Department of Health during the outbreak.
The emergency declaration allows Biles and Fossa to waive purchasing procedures and other protocols related to performing public work, make emergency purchases, hire workers, make use of volunteers or other considerations. The county last declared a state of emergency in August in advance of Hurricane Dorian.
The declaration is in effect for seven days, but can be extended at the discretion of Biles or Foss.
With the Centers for Disease Control "predicting that it is ‘likely’ that ‘widespread transmission’'' of coronavirus will occur in the United States, the resolution also urged local residents to follow the agency’s practical measures on hand washing, staying home when ill and other safeguards.
Earlier, Kurt Scheible, Pasco’s public transportation director, said county bus drivers have been given disinfectant wipes to clean steering wheels, fare boxes and the metal hand rails that riders use to board buses. Hand sanitizer always has been available on board for riders, he said.
In east Pasco, Saint Leo University said students, now on spring break, are being instructed to not return to the residential campus. Online classes will begin March 23.
Saint Leo education center students at Tampa (Channelside); MacDill Air Force Base; Lakeland; and the university’s sites on Pasco-Hernando State College campuses in New Port Richey, Spring Hill and Brooksville will begin online classes March 16.
A spokeswoman for PHSC, which is on spring break, said it is adhering to its normal schedule, as of Thursday afternoon.
Saint Leo University also canceled all large group events and suspended indefinitely off-season sports activities for fall and winter sports. Spring sports are continuing but no fans will be permitted to attend acrobatics and tumbling home events.
Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano said his office planned to send letters to motorists with birthdays in April and May. urging them to renew their motor vehicle tags and drivers licenses online or through the U.S. mail, if possible, rather than visiting one of his offices.
An earlier version of this story reported Saint Leo University had suspended all sports events indefinitely, but the suspension applies only to off-season activities for fall and winter sports.
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