A day after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a vague executive order to limit all activity in Florida to essential services, the Pinellas County Commission unanimously passed an order to close thousands of businesses for 30 days that are not deemed essential in the coronavirus pandemic.
But the seven commissioners and other leaders could not define what is essential.
The board passed the order and agreed to allow county administrator Barry Burton and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to compile a list of categories to detail what businesses need to close. During the discussion, Gualtieri said businesses like barbershops, car washes, beauty supply and lighting stores will have to shut down Friday at 12:01 a.m. A final list will likely include hundreds of more establishments.
The commissioners, Gualtieri and Burton said DeSantis’ order provided confusion on who should stay home and what businesses should close their doors. The order also says senior citizens must remain at home.
Gualtieri cited an example of a 75-year-old doctor who has to leave home for work, saying deputies will not pull over motorists to question their ages and destinations. He urged residents to do the“right thing” if they have to leave their homes.
“It does not carve out any exceptions," Gualtieri said about the order. “It does not define a senior. This is not done with clarity.”
County officials tried getting answers from the governor’s office but didn’t get a response, Burton said, noting the order says people can’t go to non-essential businesses.
Commissioner Charlie Justice said DeSantis is playing semantics with the order. Each commissioner, he said, is going to draw the ire of residents and be flooded with questions because the order is so vague.
“I feel like he wants to say he didn’t close any businesses," Justice said. “This is what we’re going to get for the next 30 days. This is the governor’s order, not ours.”
Last week, about 200 deputies and police officers canvassed the county to deliver messages and warnings about keeping distance between customers and employees. Deputies and police posted notices at thousands of businesses. The warnings came after commissioners enacted a “safer at home” order.
Before commissioners complained Thursday about the lack of information from the governor, Gualtieri played a video and slide presentation to show few people on beaches and in pools. The slides detailed 4,000 visits deputies made to thousands of businesses to make sure each followed guidelines.
Deputies walked into barber shops, nail salons, restaurants and grocery stores to take pictures of people inside. Gualtieri stressed that deputies found minimal violators. But once deputies educated the businesses, each complied with guidelines to stand at least 6 feet apart, he said, adding that other police departments conducted similar checks.
Gualtieri praised businesses owners for following guidelines and said the compliance checks showed fewer people were shopping and congregating in crowds of more than 10. He said he disagreed with the governor’s order to close businesses.
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“Overall, we’re seeing compliance by the retail establishments,” he said. “There are a whole, whole bunch of businesses that are going to have to close their doors.”
DeSantis signed the executive order for the next 30 days to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. For weeks, he resisted a statewide stay-home order. The order is intended to follow the direction of the White House, which revised its guidelines on Tuesday and extended its social distancing recommendations until the end of April.
All other Floridians can’t leave their homes unless it’s to obtain or provide essential services, a phrase that has become increasingly familiar but has differed in meaning depending on where it’s used.
In the hours after DeSantis signed the order, local governments and businesses were cramming to understand how the state will define the term. The state will adhere to lengthy guidelines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Miami-Dade County. Those lists include obvious services like hospitals, police and fire departments and grocery stores, but also hardware stores, pet supply stores, gun and ammo stores and laundromats.
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