Pinellas County erred in sending message urging people to shelter in place

The alert came after other states issued similar orders across the country.
The Pinellas County Courthouse is seen in this undated Google Earth image.
The Pinellas County Courthouse is seen in this undated Google Earth image. [ Google Earth ]
Published March 20, 2020

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Electronic messages sent Friday evening by Pinellas County government to residents urging them to shelter in place were sent in error, county administrator Barry Burton said.

The message from Alert Pinellas told residents to “shelter in place, which means residents should avoid traveling for non-essential purposes." Burton did not know about the message recommendation until the Tampa Bay Times called him Friday evening. The messages get sent to phones and email addresses.

“It’s a wording issue,” Burton said. “I don’t want people to overreact. We are urging people to avoid contact with others as much as possible."

A new message would be sent to residents, Burton added, saying that all other parts of the message were correct. It came as county and city leaders work to inform residents and tourists about public beaches closing at 11:59. p.m. Friday.

It urged people to not gather in groups of more than 10 and to keep at least six feet apart. “Social distancing keeps us safe,” the message said.

The erroneous part of the message came about 24 hours after Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel asked the six other commissioners in an emergency meeting about the possibility of making the recommendation. Seel said she liked the orders issued to several California cities. The idea didn’t gain momentum with other commissioners.

In the past two days, governors in California, New York and Illinois issued executive orders mandating that all workers in non-essential business across those states are ordered to remain home.

The moves are in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus causes the disease COVID-19, which can cause severe respiratory infections. Doctors say it spreads through droplets that fly when a person sneezes or cough. It’s primarily transmitted person-to-person, though people can also pick up the virus by touching dirty surfaces.

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