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Pinellas safer-at-home order to expire Monday

Several commissioners and the sheriff criticize Gov. Ron Desantis for not providing more guidance on new order.
The Pinellas County Commission met in March to discuss passing a safer-at-home order.
The Pinellas County Commission met in March to discuss passing a safer-at-home order. [ DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Douglas R. Clifford ]
Published May 1, 2020
Updated May 1, 2020

Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously Friday to allow their safer-at-home order to expire at the same time the governor’s new order partially reopens the state on Monday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order allows restaurants and retail shops to reopen with limited capacity and social-distancing requirements.

During the course of an hour-long discussion, several commissioners and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri expressed frustration with the way DeSantis issued the orders and said his administration refuses to answer questions from local officials.

Commissioner Charlie Justice compared the governor’s order to an Internal Revenue Service code book, adding: "He needs to be as clear as possible. Clear communication is so critical right now.”

Added Gualtieri: "You can’t be clear with mud. That is what we got.”

The commission passed a second resolution to allow hundreds of business to get back to work on Monday. County administrator Barry Burton said he and Gualtieri spent five hours on Thursday working to interpret the governor’s order. The sheriff said they tried applying “common sense to this.”

In recent weeks, residents have flooded commissioners with hundreds of complaints about car washes and dog groomers not being allowed to operate. Those can open on Monday, officials said.

For restaurants and food establishments, the businesses must reduce capacity for inside dining to 25 percent of what is listed on the certificate of occupancy. Gualtieri described it as the area between “four walls and a roof.” No bar seating is allowed, but bar areas with tabletops may be open, records show.

Restaurants with outside seating must adhere to social-distancing requirements. The governor’s order doesn’t restrict outside seating, but establishments must adhere to municipal ordinances, officials said. Gualtieri said he has heard that several cities will allow some street closures to allow eateries to expand outside.

Last month, DeSantis issued a vague executive order to limit all activity in Florida to essential services. To comply, the Pinellas commission unanimously passed an order to close thousands of businesses for 30 days that were not deemed essential in the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the businesses that still cannot open on Monday are hair salons, barbershops, gyms, tattoo and piercing shops, and dance, pilates and yoga studios.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters pushed Gualtieri and Burton to allow dance and yoga studios to open, saying the establishments have space for social distancing. Commission Chair Pat Gerard asked about massage parlors and said the public will blame the board for keeping some businesses closed.

“I think he was throwing us under the bus,” Gerard said about DeSantis.

The governor’s order applied to retail and store-front businesses, and Gualtieri and Burton tried to allow as many businesses as possible to open, including car washes and mobile dog groomers, the sheriff said.

“We’re trying to make everything we can with this bucket of mud,” he said. “Mobile dog groomers, go for it. Please, go get your dog washed.”

The board also supported Commissioner Ken Welch’s recommendation that residents wear masks in public.

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