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Tampa regional coronavirus strategy: Stay on your side of the county line

Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas county officials hold virtual meeting on Tuesday.

Elected leaders from three counties and two major cities talked regionalism Tuesday morning. But on one point, they didn’t dispute provincialism in dealing with COVID-19: Don’t transport patients across county lines.

The discussion arose after Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore wondered if a potential surge in the disease caused by the coronavirus could require communities to share overflow space to ease hospital crowding.

Pasco has secured space at two hotels if its five hospitals run out of room. Hillsborough County officials said Monday they had signed leases with two hotels to house coronavirus patients and identified the Yuengling Center as a site that could accommodate 250 additional patients. Lourdes Benedict, assistant Pinellas County administrator, said Pinellas also had secured hotel space.

“We need to work together if one county gets overloaded. We may need to let people traverse back and forth across counties,’’ Moore said during a virtual meeting attended by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, Hillsborough Commission Chairman Les Miller and Pinellas Commission Chair Pat Gerard.

Castor quickly shot down the idea, saying it was “best to figure out on a county-by-county basis,’’ because of potential issues with transporting patients and the rapidity with which the pandemic can change local situations.

“I think it would be difficult to transport individuals across’’ county lines, she said.

Nobody voiced disagreement.

Hibbard, sworn in Monday as Clearwater mayor, later said he feared the implications of the area’s homeless population failing to practice social distancing.

“I’m afraid of them becoming a Petri dish that could be spreading it,’’ he said.

It is one of the challenges in establishing temporary housing for the homeless, Castor said. Tampa set up a 100-space tent camp for the homeless to use during the city’s stay-at-home order.

“It can’t be forced,’’ she said. “A lot of individuals don’t want to go because they can’t carry on their lifestyles in that location.’’

Pasco has not issued a stay-at-home order.

The 55-minute meeting featured Moore sitting on the dais in the Pasco Commission chambers in Dade City with the others participating via teleconference. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman did not attend, but his spokesman said John Rodriguez, government relations director, did.

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