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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida grew Thursday to more than 500. The state death toll also grew to 10.
Restaurants try to adapt to an unprecedented crisis
Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all restaurants to close. They will be allowed to offer delivery and takeout.
Unlike in other parts of the state and country, Tampa Bay’s restaurants have not yet been forced to shut down entirely. But as chefs and owners grapple with the restrictions they face, such as operating at 50-percent capacity, and try to act responsibly in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, they’ve changed up their business models in an effort to stay afloat.
For Rooster & The Till chef Ferrell Alvarez, that meant turning his acclaimed group of restaurants into a delivery and takeout concept. For others, it means selling cold brew in the parking lot or delivering salad to the cars of diners who park near the restaurant.
Even while adapting, though, restaurants face a financial disaster, and some have already had to lay off many employees. Some have closed completely.
“I don’t want to expose my guests or my employees to anything that could harm them,” said Chris Ponte, who closed all three of his restaurants. "I think the sooner that we take this and respect this and do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be okay. The longer we prolong this I think it’s just going to be worse and worse.”
Pinellas beaches to close Friday night
After days of conversation and criticism, the Pinellas County Commission voted Thursday to close the county’s public beaches and nearby parking in an effort to dissuade crowds. The order goes into effect Friday night.
The order does not apply to business and hotels along the beaches. It also doesn’t apply to Honeymoon Island, which is a state park. The county will ask the state to close it.
The order overrules a decision from the Clearwater City Council earlier this week to keep Clearwater Beach open until Monday.
“What I am most concerned about is what we don’t know, there is so much that is unfolding health wise,” Commissioner Dave Eggers said. “I want to be on the side of proactively doing something.”
The commission’s vote was unanimous, but not everyone it heard from was in favor of the decision: Sheriff Bob Gualtieri advocated for keeping the beaches open.
Hillsborough leaders restrict gatherings to 10, prepare to be ‘overrun’
Hillsborough County leaders announced a major restriction Thursday, too: It banned public and private gatherings of more than 10 people.
The county’s Emergency Policy Group — which includes the sheriff, mayors, school board members and other public officials — made that decision and hinted that more restrictive measures, such as a county-wide curfew or an order to close restaurants, could come as soon as Monday.
Officials lamented the lack of testing in the county. As they were speaking, 19 cases had been confirmed in the county, but far more certainly existed and had gone untested. The county has the equipment, infrastructure and plans to expand testing, but it’s missing one important thing: federally-approved testing kits.
“My position is that we are going to be, very shortly, overrun,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said. “The only reason why we don’t have (more) cases is because we’re not testing.”
Coping with anxiety and isolation
Isolation can be scary. If you’re anxious, that’s okay, and you’re not alone. On the newest episode of our podcast Coronavirus in Florida, host Allison Graves talked with Dr. Melissa Bailey, a licensed clinical psychologist in Safety Harbor, about how the pandemic and the resulting isolation from safety measures are affecting people’s mental health. They also talked about how people can cope.
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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
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