Several Pinellas County commissioners had wanted to ease beach restrictions, but the county’s 35 miles of pristine shoreline will remain closed until the coronavirus pandemic declines.
During a County Commission meeting on Thursday, the seven commissioners decided against opening parts of beaches and condominium pools for exercise, although several on Monday had said they wanted information so they could consider ways to let people use the beaches.
Commissioner Kathleen Peters asked the board and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to consider allowing residents to use pools in condominiums. Many buildings have few residents, because other owners live out of state, she said, noting it is not fair to keep banning people from using pools to exercise.
“People are being safe,” Peters said on Thursday. “People are being responsible. It’s important to many of the people who live in condos. We can trust the people of Pinellas County.”
But Gualtieri said that opening condominium pools, but not others in country clubs, hotels and apartments, would be unfair and would create a “have and have-not situation" across the county.
“Any decision that has to be made is all or nothing,” Gualtieri said. “It creates an enforcement nightmare. When you decide to go down this path, you need to follow it through.”
Peters’ request failed when it didn’t garner support for a vote.
Citing fears over the growing coronavirus crisis, the commission voted in March to close public beaches and the parking lots near them. This came after a video went viral online showing a packed Clearwater Beach, unleashing a flood of accusations from across the country that Pinellas elected officials were enabling a public health crisis.
Meanwhile, several commissioners asked what metrics the county would use to determine when it could loosen restrictions.
Restrictions should not be eased until Gov. Ron DeSantis revokes or modifies the executive order to remain at home until April 30, County Administrator Barry Burton said.
The commission also would need to modify local emergency orders, and the number of positive tests for coronavirus would need to decline, Burton said. The safer-at-home mandate has helped flatten the virus curve, he added.
Burton showed that projections for coronavirus hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and ventilator use decreased significantly from April 7 to April 15. The modeling shows that the county has the capacity to handle hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and ventilators, he said, adding that about 1 percent of Pinellas County residents have been tested for the virus. The county caseload is expected to peak on April 26, the report said.
“We would like to see a sustained reduction in cases for 14 days,” Burton said. “We hope that the peak period is soon.”
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