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Your questions on Pinellas and Hillsborough’s safer at home orders, answered

Under what circumstances can you go outside under the new rules in your respective county? Read this to find out.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton speaks to Pinellas County commissioners on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, while attending a meeting in downtown Clearwater to deliberate and vote on a proposed “safer at home” order to legally encourage the county’s 1-million residents to stay at home except for essential activity like trips for groceries, medical needs and jobs deemed essential. The order would also permit residents to exercise outside as long as they keep six feet from others in groups no larger than 10 people as a strategy to slow the spread of coronavirus. Although county administrator Barry Burton has authority under the county's state of emergency resolution to unilaterally issue an order on his own, he said such a measure will be left up to the seven commissioners. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

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• • •

Confused about the government orders issued this week in response to the coronavirus pandemic? We’re here to answer your questions.

The Pinellas County Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved a “safer at home” order telling nearly 1 million residents to stay home. The only exception is for trips needed to take care of essential needs such as buying groceries, addressing medical issues or working essential jobs.

And on Thursday, Hillsborough County’s Emergency Policy Group voted 8-0 to adopt its own “safer at home” order after tabling earlier plans to also adopt a curfew on nights and weekends.

Before we get into the questions, keep in mind that while the response of various governments to the coronavirus keeps changing in its particulars, the message from health experts remains the same:

Stay home, stay home, stay home.

Pinellas County

Q: When will the order take effect ?

A: At 11:27 a.m. on Thursday.

Q: When does the order expire?

A: The order technically expires seven days from now, when the county’s declaration of a local state of emergency expires. The Pinellas County Commission will have to vote every seven days to extend the local state of emergency order and the “safer at home” directive.

Q: How do I report a violation of the order that I see?

A: The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has asked citizens to call their tip line at 727-582-TIPS (8477) or email their tips to Covidtips-questions@pcsonet.com.

Q: Under what circumstances can I go outside under Pinellas County’s “safer at home” order?

A: In a nutshell, Pinellas County residents can leave home for work, if they work at an essential business ⁠— or a non-essential business willing to abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines; for medical reasons or to care for family members; to visit an essential business; to get groceries, or medicine, or for exercise. County parks and boat ramps will stay open, but those who venture outside must stay more than 6 feet apart from one another. Gatherings of more than 10 are not allowed.

Q: What is an essential businesses? What’s an example of a non-essential business?

A: Under the Pinellas County order, the definition of an essential business is broad. No fewer than 34 separate categories of businesses are spelled out in it. Among them: grocery stores, farms, gas stations, banks, hardware and gardening stores, health care providers — including medical cannabis facilities — logistics workers, restaurants, furniture stores, law offices, assisted living facilities, architecture firms, waste management companies, hotels and veterinarians. That’s just a partial list, too.

Check out the whole order here. The list of essential businesses is on pages 3 to 6.

Essential businesses can flout the rule about gatherings larger than 10. However, officials urge those who work at those businesses to keep a 6-foot distance from each other.

Basically, the only businesses explicitly shut down by the order are so-called “places of public assembly.” That means places like theaters, bowling allies, public playgrounds, concert halls, country clubs and other large gathering spaces must shutter, if they haven’t already done so.

Q: How will Pinellas County enforce this?

A: County Attorney Jewel White said violating the directive is a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. The county can petition the courts to shut down businesses that flagrantly ignore the order. But Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his deputies will mostly rely on educating residents to enforce the order. They plan to deliver notices to every business in the county that detail the directive and the Centers for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines.

Q: I run or work at a so-called “non-essential business.” Does my workplace have to close?

A: Not necessarily. Let’s say you work at a book store. If your store enacts strict social distancing rules that align with Centers for Disease Control guidelines, the county says it won’t crack down on your business.

Attracting customers during a time when people have been ordered to stay at home as much as possible might be difficult, though.

Q: Is there a curfew?

A: The order does not include a curfew, so people are free to move around at any hour of the day so long as their movements fulfill an essential personal or business need.

Q: Will St. Petersburg issue its own city-wide order?

A: Mayor Rick Kriseman expressed displeasure at the county’s order allowing nonessential businesses to stay open if they can abide by group gathering and social distancing guidelines. But at a Wednesday news conference after the commission’s vote, the mayor said he would not implement his own, more restrictive order for the city. Instead, St. Petersburg officials will monitor downtown businesses to see if they comply with the county’s order.

If they don’t, Kriseman said he might order nonessential businesses to close next week.

Hillsborough County

Q: When does the order take effect?

A: At 10 p.m. on Friday.

Q: When does the order expire?

A: The safer-at-home order is only effective for seven days at a time, but can be renewed by the group as often as they elect to renew the county’s local “state of emergency,” county attorney Christine Beck said. When asked about the order’s expiration date after Thursday’s meeting, county commissioner and Emergency Policy Group chairman Les Miller said "as long as this virus is going on it may have to stay in place.”

Q. Why did Hillsborough decide against adding a curfew to the “safer at home” declaration?

A: County leaders said it was mainly a matter of messaging. If the public knew a curfew required them to be home at night, the group feared that public perception would be that it’s okay to be out during the day. By issuing an emergency order to stay home all the time, every day, unless absolutely necessary, law enforcement is still given the legal teeth necessary to enforce the new rules.

Q: Under what circumstances can I go outside under Hillsborough’s “safer at home” declaration?

A: Hillsborough residents can leave home to work at an essential business ⁠— or, at a non-essential business willing to abide by the Centers for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines; for medical reasons or to care for family members; to visit an essential business; to get groceries, medicine or to exercise. The order grants the “unlimited ability” to go out for food, including take-out from restaurants, as well as the ability to satisfy “basic needs," like taking your dog to the vet.

Q: What is an essential businesses? What’s an example of a non-essential business?

A: Hillsborough’s order specifies that it follows the list of essential businesses identified by the Department of Homeland Security. It’s a long list that’s similar to the Pinellas list above. It includes workers in the following fields: utilities, law enforcement, transportation, food production and distribution, healthcare, banking and other services. The complete list can be found at: www.cisa.gov/publication/guidance-essential-critical-infrastructure-workforce.

Non-essential businesses are those that can’t enforce the 6 foot separation rule. Officials have mentioned massage parlors, nail and hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors as likely unable to meet that standard.

Q: My business isn’t essential. Do I have to close?

A: No, you can stay open if you provide employees with a safe working environment that keeps them 6 feet apart from co-workers and customers.

Q: How will Hillsborough County enforce this?

A: Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister and county leaders were keen to emphasize that their goal is to safeguard the public, not to fill the jail. Chronister said his deputies will enforce the order by educating the public. The Tampa Police Department and the county’s other police agencies will likely do the same. State law allows the order to be enforced as a second-degree misdemeanor, but county officials so the penalties for non-compliance will likely begin with warnings and fines.

Q: Where can I go to get out of the house?

A: There aren’t too many options. Regional parks and conservation areas are closed, and on Thursday the City of Tampa announced it would close most neighborhood parks with a few exceptions. Most public bathrooms in parks have been closed, city officials said. But there are no limits on physical activities like cycling, skateboarding or riding scooters.

Q: Does Tampa have a separate order?

A: No. The county’s safer-at-home order is the result of a compromise reached between Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and county officials.

Check out the whole order here:

Times staff writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

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