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Hillsborough County has signed leases with two hotels to house coronavirus patients, and county officials have identified the Yuengling Center as a suitable site to tend to 250 more patients if local hospitals become overloaded, county officials said Monday.
County Administrator Mike Merrill told members of the county’s Emergency Policy Group that the county has signed six-month renewable leases with two hotels, which can provide 360 beds for residents who either need to isolate or quarantine because of the virus.
The location and names of the hotels will be released by the county soon, Merrill said. County Emergency Management Director Tim Dudley said the county will notify the Department of Health once it completes preparing the facilities.
If area hospitals run out of beds, the Yuengling Center, formerly known as the USF Sun Dome, has been identified as an alternate site that could set up 250 beds, Dudley said.
The hotels will be reserved by the Department of Health for patients who call the agency and are deemed suitable. They are intended for people who have elderly family members at home or those who are living with other people vulnerable to the virus.
“The first option is to stay at home,” Dudley told reporters in a conference call after the policy group’s meeting."
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said she was confident that the county was taking the necessary steps to be prepared for increased hospitalizations.
“I think we’re prepared now for what is ahead of us,” she said, praising the “solid plan in place."
The group also approved amending the county’s Safer at Home order to give priority to truck drivers and agricultural workers for lodging at the county’s hotels and motels. That measure was approved unanimously by the group’s eight members: Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County Commissioners Les Miller, Murman and Kimberly Overman, School Board chairwoman Melissa Snively, Sheriff Chad Chronister, Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross and Plant City Mayor Rick Lott.
The Florida Department of Health’s Hillsborough Director Douglas Holt told the group that he supports shutting down community and public pools, but the group didn’t take any formal action to amend its order.
“It would still be advisory at this point,” Merrill said in the call with reporters.
The group also discussed whether to amend the order to allow nail and hair salons and barbershops to reopen, but the issue never came to a vote.
Merrill said it would be nearly impossible for such businesses to maintain the required six-foot distance under the order. “That’s just common sense,” he said.
And such businesses would have to acquire and consistently use protective gear to avoid spreading infection between the stylist and client.
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“Otherwise we’d let nurses at the collection site wear shorts and a t-shirt,” Merrill said.
Miller said he had been flooded with calls and emails from that sector asking for a way to reopen their businesses.
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