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Hillsborough schedules county safer-at-home order to expire

The county’s emergency policy group voted to rescind the order when Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to reopen Florida takes effect Monday

TAMPA — Saying they want to avoid confusing the public and support Gov. Ron DeSantis, Hillsborough’s Emergency Policy Group voted Thursday to schedule the county’s safer-at-home order to expire at the same time the governor’s new order partially reopening the state comes into effect Monday.

School Board Chairwoman Melissa Snively led the effort to rescind the order effective midnight Monday. The vote was 7-1 with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor voting no.

Snively said she had been hearing from constituents who wanted to the county to “loosen up.” Plant City Mayor Rick Lott said he wanted to remove a redundant order.

Only Castor pushed back, saying that she didn’t understand the purpose of rescinding the order when the county might need to tighten up restrictions in the future.

“I don’t understand all of the discussion about this when they’re not in conflict," Castor said. “It’s just perplexing to me.”

Lott said the issue was showing support for the plan DeSantis announced Wednesday.

“Are we behind the governor’s message or not? Let’s clear the road, let’s clear the path,” Lott said.

In other business, the group unanimously voted to extend the local state of emergency for another week.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said continuing the order allowed the county to continue to collect federal reimbursements for testing and other measures undertaken to combat the pandemic.

Also Thursday, Dr. Doug Holt, director of the health department, said 48 people were hospitalized in Hillsborough with COVID-19. Most were not being treated in intensive care units. That was a one-third increase over a week ago when 35 people were in the hospital due to the coronavirus. No explanation was offered for the increase.

The rate of positive results from coronavirus diagnosis tests remains at about 6 percent, but that does not include the recent uptick in testing administered after the county relaxed its pre-screening restrictions Tuesday.

The county had nearly 1,300 appointments scheduled for Thursday and Friday and another 748 appointments scheduled so far for next week, said Tim Dudley, the county’s emergency management director.

About 1.34 percent of the county’s population has been tested. Officials have said they would like that number bumped to 2 percent of the county’s 1.4 million residents.

Policy group members’ reactions to the governor’s press conference Wednesday night were positive.

"I think it’s a great first start,'' said Commissioner Sandra Murman. "It’s really important to get everybody back to work and getting back on their feet again and getting businesses reopened. I am cautiously encouraged by the announcement.''

While some businesses will be opening again, social distancing and recommendations for face coverings won’t be going away

"I think we’re about to enter into this era of what the new normal might look like,'' said Murman.

“I think it’s wise,'' said Commissioner Kimberely Overman. "It sounds like he’s listening to the physicians.''

Related: Hillsborough parks, services to remain closed
Related: Tampa's parks and beaches will stay closed for now

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