Florida’s reopening. Will you stay home or will you go?

On Monday restaurants and retail stores can operate at 25 percent indoor capacity. Residents across Tampa Bay are mixed on whether they will take the governor up on his invitation to venture out.
An electronic sign alerts drivers Wednesday, April 29, 2020 in Clearwater. Pinellas County leaders decided to open the beaches on May 4.
An electronic sign alerts drivers Wednesday, April 29, 2020 in Clearwater. Pinellas County leaders decided to open the beaches on May 4. [ CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published April 30, 2020|Updated May 1, 2020

Just because the state will allow businesses to begin opening doors next week after more than a month of state-mandated shutdowns, Dwan Marino Sr. isn’t planning to dine out while coronavirus is still spreading.

“I’m afraid right now sometimes walking past people,” said Marino, 53, of Tampa.

Shannon and Michael Waites of Dunedin are comfortable with their plan to eat dinner at any restaurant with an outdoor patio next week, but for now would probably pass on a table inside.

“On one hand I want normalcy, but I’m afraid too many people are going to do too much and we’ll be right back in a lockdown,” said Shannon Waites, 45.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision to begin lifting stay-at-home restrictions for most of the state amid the coronavirus outbreak is the first green light citizens have had in a month to leave their homes for non-essential activities. Whether residents across Tampa Bay will take the governor’s invitation to venture out is mixed.

Beginning on Monday restaurants, retail stores, museums and libraries can operate at 25 percent indoor capacity. Bars, gyms, salons and schools will remain closed during the first of DeSantis’s multi-phase reopening plan.

Before deciding whether to leave home, Dr. Marc Yacht, who spent 20 years as the director of the Pasco County Health Department, said residents should seriously consider their own health and the safety of others.

He said even with state restrictions lifting, the elderly and people with chronic medical problems should still avoid leaving home for anything that’s not essential. He recommends masks, gloves and staying at least six feet from others for everyone else gathering in public.

“I’m not listening to politicians, I’m watching numbers,” Yacht said. “When I feel comfortable new case numbers are going down, then we’ll start to go back on the tennis courts and go out to eat."

For Barbara Friesl, 81, it comes down to trusting citizens to act responsibly while allowing the economy to restart.

Friesl said she plans to visit the mall next week but would not go without wearing a mask and gloves.

She hasn’t seen her husband, who lives in an assisted living facility, since the state banned visitors on March 15. The lack of social interaction, even the loss of socializing that comes with dining out or going shopping, is a challenge, she said.

“We need to get the economy going again,” said Friesl, of Dunedin. “I’m being safe and most people I know are being safe about it, too, so it is time.”

In response to a survey from the Tampa Bay Times on Facebook, Tazia Stagg expressed distrust in DeSantis’s decision and said staying home is the right thing until the virus isn’t circulating or a vaccine is available.

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“Keeping my distance from everyone I can to prevent suffering, doctor visits, hospitalizations, adverse events, medical errors, medical expenses, and deaths, by stopping the spread,” she wrote.

Tampa resident David Gallo, 30, said he misses going out with friends, but still doesn’t plan to go out next week.

“I’m too much of a social butterfly to stay cooped up,” he said. “But I personally am going to hold off a little longer. Better safe than sorry."

Mark Miller, who owns Douglas Manufacturing in Clearwater, said in the four sales consultations he did at clients’ homes on Thursday, none were wearing masks. None asked him to wear one before inspecting their windows.

There has to be a time when the world will get back to dinners and gatherings without covered faces, he said, and that time is now.

“Bon Appetit and Casa Tina, those are my first two stops," he said of his planned return to downtown Dunedin restaurants next week.

Linda Youngman, 79, of Dunedin sorely misses her afternoons of thrift shopping. But the shoppers at Publix who don’t wear masks and the people she’s seen ignoring social distancing tell her it’s not yet safe to lift restrictions. The risk of spreading the virus to more people, she said, is not worth it.

“We are our brother’s keeper, we must have respect for each other,” Youngman said. “Why would we want to put others at risk?”

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