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Coronavirus in Florida latest: beach closures, restaurant changes, isolation and mental health

Here’s what you need to know for Friday, March 20.
Left to Right: Brian Lampe, executive chef, Proper House Restaurant Group, Tampa, Adrianna Siller, sous-chef, Gallito Taqueria, Lakeland, and Ferrell Alvarez, co-owner, Proper House Restaurant Group, Tampa, all work in the kitchen of The Rooster and the Till, Tampa, Thursday, March 19, 2020 preparing to go orders for customers. Proper House management is trying to keep their business going during the Coronavirus outbreak.
Left to Right: Brian Lampe, executive chef, Proper House Restaurant Group, Tampa, Adrianna Siller, sous-chef, Gallito Taqueria, Lakeland, and Ferrell Alvarez, co-owner, Proper House Restaurant Group, Tampa, all work in the kitchen of The Rooster and the Till, Tampa, Thursday, March 19, 2020 preparing to go orders for customers. Proper House management is trying to keep their business going during the Coronavirus outbreak. [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]
Published Mar. 20, 2020
Updated Mar. 20, 2020

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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

EVENT CANCELLATIONS: Get the latest updates on events planned in the Tampa Bay area in the coming weeks.

STORES REACT TO VIRUS: Some businesses adjust hours or announce temporary closings.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.

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