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UPDATE: Tampa Bay leaders are divided on whether to order residents to stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Here’s where the leaders in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties stand.
ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman said on Tuesday that a stay-at-home order is coming.
Such an order would limit non-essential travel, he said, but still leave room for residents to buy food and even exercise in parks.
Echoing a Tweet he sent on Monday, the mayor said he prefers that Gov. Ron DeSantis issue a statewide order. But in the absence of one, he said, Tampa Bay must tackle this regionally.
“St. Petersburg and Pinellas County and Tampa, we’ve all had conversations," he said during a news conference broadcast on Facebook Live, "and you should expect to see something in the very near future.”
Whether it comes from St. Petersburg or Pinellas County remains unclear.
The Pinellas County Commission will discuss a proposed countywide shelter-in-place order at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. A majority of commissioners said they supported a shelter-in-place order that would allow residents to exercise outdoors and keep essential businesses open.
If Pinellas passes an order with those parameters, it would put it in line with the order that Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she hopes will take effect on Thursday at 12:01 a.m.
Tampa drafted the order even though members of an emergency policy group on Monday did not vote in favor of a countywide measure championed by Mayor Jane Castor. The Tampa Bay Times obtained a draft copy of Tampa’s stay-at-home order, which would just apply to the city and allow people to still go outside for exercise and to walk their pets, to visit grocery stores and pharmacies and pickup take-out, and to take care of family members.
Liquor stores, pet stores and convenience stores would also remain open, and other essential businesses would stay open.
Kriseman said he’d like all the orders regionally to be identical, but recognizes they will likely be similar with minor alterations tailored to each individual jurisdiction.
But about one hour after Kriseman spoke, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill issued a county-wide order saying that no portion of the county will be under a stay-at-home order until the county decides. It’s unclear what Merrill’s order, and the open conflict prevailing in Hillsborough County, could mean for a regional approach.
After Castor and Merrill went back and forth on Tuesday, Kriseman said the biggest cities in Tampa Bay, plus Pinellas County are working together and that “Hillsborough County should come around and join us as soon as possible.”
Kriseman said he’d rather St. Petersburg be part of a group, but will push through a city-wide order if he must.
“St. Petersburg, we don’t want to be an island on this," the mayor said. “It doesn’t do us any good."
Despite the discord in Hillsborough County, the appetite for such a measure seems to be strong among leaders in Pinellas.
In addition to the County Commissioners who support action, a majority of St. Petersburg City Council members said they would support a city-wide order if the state or regional measure doesn’t materialize.
Kriseman said he had also been in contact with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer about orders so that the termini of Interstate 4 could be under uniform rules.
Dyer spoke to the Times by phone on Tuesday immediately before Orange and Osceola counties announced stay-at-home orders.
“It’s become clear the governor is not going to do a statewide order,” Dyer said. "So we think that three of the leading most populous counties in Central Florida, we do know that some of the smaller countries tend to follow Pinellas, Hillsborough and Orange County’s lead. So by being the point of the spear it allows other smaller counties some cover to do what they need to do.”
Dyer said the plan came together after a U.S. Conference of Mayors phone call on Friday in which the mayors of cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago — places that have been hit hard by coronavirus — called on mayors of cities that have had fewer positive tests to be proactive.
Does it change the equation if Hillsborough ultimately doesn’t join?
With Osceola, Dyer said, “We’re moving together in Central Florida.”
In St. Petersburg, reporters were allowed to submit questions to the mayor ahead of his Facebook news conference, which were read to him by city emergency operations spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez.
In response to one about evictions, Kriseman said he has spoken with Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino about evictions and foreclosures. Rondolino said that “he has to follow the law,” which means if there is an eviction or foreclosure action pending, and it can be heard over the phone, judges must hear it.
Kriseman also said he’s encouraged Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to prioritize other things over delivering eviction notices. Plus, the mayor said, the Florida Urban Partnership, which consists of the mayors from the state’s seven largest cities, sent a letter to DeSantis asking him to suspend evictions and foreclosures statewide.
The mayor also dispelled any rumors that a stay-at-home order would force people to stay inside.
“This is not a lockdown, this is not a curfew and this is not martial law," he said. “So if you’re out on the road, our officers are not going to stop you and ask you for identification or papers, or asking you ‘Where are you going?’”
Kriseman also said he’s looking at Tropicana Field, Al Lang Stadium and other sites as places that could serve as temporary hospital sites, if necessary. On Saturday, DeSantis said he is considering isolation shelters in empty hotels or convention centers for people who have tested positive for COVID-19, but do not need to be hospitalized.
The mayor offered words of encouragement to residents looking for some hope.
“This is temporary, this is not permanent," he said. "We’re doing it, though, so that we can save lives.”
“It’s important that you know that this current acute crisis, it will end. we will eventually get over the hump and we’ll work to restart St. Petersburg."
Times staff writers Charlie Frago, Tracey McManus and Mark Puente contributed to this report.
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