Today marks the reopening of some restaurants, stores and beaches throughout Tampa Bay as the state moves forward with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to ease out of coronavirus restrictions.
DeSantis announced Thursday the three-tiered plan to start lifting stay-at-home orders, with the first wave focused on getting restaurants and shops running again at 25-percent capacity.
“Phase one” allows museums and libraries to open at limited capacity and allows elective surgeries to resume. Sporting venues may operate, but without spectators.
Here’s what’s not changing:
- Bars and nightclubs
- Gyms, hair and nail salons and other personal service providers
- Visits to senior living facilities
- Schools, outside of e-learning models
- Movie theaters and concert halls
The order does not apply to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, where the pandemic has hit hardest, however. The governor said he will consider issuing an order for those counties soon.
“I erred on the side of taking measured steps, even baby steps, to start on the road of a brighter day,” DeSantis said.
Following a roughly six-week shutdown, restaurants in Tampa Bay are now allowed to open their dining rooms and patios with limited capacity. Seating indoors is limited to 25 percent capacity, but there are no limits for outdoor seating, which is encouraged.
Tables must be placed at least six feet apart, and parties larger than 10 are not allowed. Bar seating is also not permitted, inside or outside.
If you’re interested in dining out this week, make sure to call ahead to see if your favorite spot is opening. Some restaurant owners are apprehensive.
David Laxer, who owns Bern’s Steak House as well as Haven and B&G Little Midway, said Haven would be reopening on Monday but his other businesses remain closed.
“Our opening date will be determined when we can safely adhere to the proper guidelines for the safety of guests and staff, in conjunction with again changing our business model to now incorporate both to-go and dine-in patrons," Laxer said. "This will require more planning and time.”
Laxer cited Haven’s two outdoor patios, which would allow for six-foot distancing between tables, as part of the decision to open that business and not the others.
Richard Gonzmart praised DeSantis’ decision but said the Columbia Restaurant Group’s Tampa restaurants would not reopen Monday.
“While we’re now allowed to reopen, we will decide what that means for each of our restaurants," Gonzmart said. “It might mean takeout or outside seating at some of our locations, but it’s too soon to know what or when. Whatever happens will be gradual, and safe for our guests and staff.”
Similar to restaurants, retail stores have the green-light today to open at 25 percent capacity while following six-foot social distancing guidelines.
Local businesses are deciding whether it’s the right time to put out the welcome mat. Some are eager to get back whatever income they can, while others question if it’s safe enough to put their employees to work.
“There’s two camps of people,” said David Fischer, the owner of downtown St. Petersburg’s Zazoo’d furniture store. “As a business, you’re treading a fine line. It’s hard to strike the right balance and stay in business.”
The governor’s executive order includes fines for businesses that exceed the limit on 25 percent capacity, imposing a second-degree misdemeanor with a fine up to $500 and some regulated businesses may face enforcement action for violating the restrictions.
Simon Property Group said it would open St. Petersburg’s Tyrone Square and Tampa Premium Outlets in Lutz on Monday. Tampa’s International Plaza will reopen Wednesday at 11 a.m. and Westfield Malls planned to reopen May 15 with modified weekday hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. These include Westfield Brandon, Westfield Countryside in Clearwater and Westfield Citrus Park in Tampa.
Washington Prime Group’s WestShore Plaza has not announced a reopening date yet.
Zazoo’d will reopen at 11 a.m. and will only accept card payments. Further down Central Avenue in the Grand Central District, package-free shop Sans Market will only let two shoppers inside at a time when it reopens today. Workers will be in masks, and the store will encourage shoppers to do the same. The shop also will continue to emphasize its ongoing online order and curbside pick-up options.
Over on East Fowler Avenue in Tampa, Mojo Books & Records has also been relying on online orders and delivery to keep afloat while its store is closed. But a closed store has meant the usual customers aren’t coming into browse or take a seat at the coffee and tea bar, said owner Melanie Cade.
“So much of what we do is about the experience,” she said.
For now, the plan is to allow only eight customers inside at a time, with gloves and hand sanitizer available at the front of the store.
Tampa Bay area hospitals are resuming elective procedures and non-life threatening surgeries after postponing thousands during the worst of the coronavirus outbreak.
DeSantis’ March 20 order temporarily ending those services put a financial strain on hospitals across the state, resulting in furloughs and layoffs of some specialized health care workers. It also left patients with medical issues in limbo for weeks.
“On an annual basis, we do more than 60,000 surgeries and procedures. In two months, we’ve postponed thousands. It’s gigantic,” said John Couris, CEO of Tampa General Hospital, which did not lay off or furlough workers.
While most other hospitals in the area will resume elective procedures today, AdventHealth hospitals will wait until May 11.
“We believe that patient safety is more important than business gains,” Ross said. “We need to prepare and ensure that this is the safest environment possible for our patients. We owe it to our community to do that.”
Tampa General Hospital and BayCare Health System are resuming elective procedures. Hospitals have been preparing for weeks to make this change.
Tampa General has begun testing all patients in the hospital for COVID-19 and will continue to do so. Staff members are undergoing antibody testing, too, a process that can show whether a person has previously been infected with the virus. The hospital has also significantly ramped up its cleaning protocols, which include UV light scans.
At BayCare, all surgical patients will be tested for COVID-19. And to encourage social distancing, hospitals and outpatient surgical centers will allow patients to check in on smartphones so they can wait in their cars until a room is ready, according to the company.
Nearly all hospitals in the region are still limiting visitors, except those visiting women in labor and child patients.
Beaches and parks
Law enforcement is prepared for a surge in people seeking Vitamin D and sand on their toes as beaches in Pinellas County open today.
County Commissioners voted last week to open 35 miles of world-famous beaches, public parking lots and pools, which have been closed since March 20.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he cannot predict crowd sizes, but officials are prepared to restrict or shift access to other points if crowds swell in certain areas. He also expects lots of visitors through Mother’s Day on May 10, and said visitors must follow the rules.
“They’re not going to be open without restrictions or some regulations,” Gualtieri said.
When visitors approach beaches, message boards and signs will display rules about social distancing. The county ordered 1,000 signs to display at entrances, 215 access points and on the sand telling visitors to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another and not to congregate in groups of more than 10.
In Tampa, people can access more than a dozen parks again, along with dog parks, kayak, canoe, boat launches and other amenities. Restrooms, playgrounds, picnic areas and sports fields will remain closed.
Tampa Mayor Castor asked residents to exercise in groups no larger than 10 and to maintain social distancing rules. Code and law enforcement personnel will monitor the spaces, she said.
There was conflicting information earlier today about what that meant for the beaches at Ben. T Davis, Picnic Island, Davis Islands and Cypress Point. After a morning of confusion, a city news release around 1 p.m. announced the city’s four beaches would open at 2 p.m.
In the SouthShore part of the county, beaches at Apollo Beach Nature Preserve and E.G. Simmons Regional Park remain closed.
Libraries and museums
Though museums were included in DeSantis’ executive order, many in Tampa Bay have no plans to reopen just yet.
Most major libraries are keeping their doors closed, too. Hillsborough County libraries are not opening yet but the decision will be reconsidered around mid-May. Pasco County is making plans for its libraries but has no firm dates. Pinellas County said each library is under the jurisdiction of its municipality, but there are tentative dates for the individual libraries ranging from May 11 to June 1.
University of South Florida’s Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa will remain closed in keeping with the school’s guidelines. Ditto for the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, which sits on St. Petersburg College’s Tarpon Springs Campus.
The Tampa Museum of Art said in an email that it “is actively planning to take the necessary precautions outlined by the CDC and local government authorities for a future reopening.” But they don’t have a definitive date yet.
The Florida Holocaust Museum said they are waiting for more guidance from Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg, and that their plans to reopen to the public will span several months as they ensure the appropriate safeguards for the public and their employees. The Morean Arts Center, which owns the Chihuly Collection, are likewise waiting for the guidance.
When museums do open their doors, there will be restrictions, including opening at no more than 25 percent of their building occupancy. And interactive exhibits and child play areas would remain closed.
Many area museums said they are continuing to create online content to engage their audiences.
The statewide order prohibits movie theaters and concert venues from opening, but some local attractions are back up and running this week.
In Tampa, Ducky’s sports lounge announced plans to open today, along with its miniature bowling lanes. The new hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Those looking for some family fun can head to Ruskin Family Drive-In, which posted its movie schedule for this week on its website, including Trolls World Tour and The Hunt.
Three local record shops — Daddy Kool and Bananas in St. Petersburg and Microgroove in Tampa — said they would not reopen to customers today. The Sound Exchange, which has locations in Tampa and Pinellas Park, opened for curbside pickup, Tampa’s Mojo Books and Records, which also serves coffee and food, planner to open at 11 a.m. for only eight customers inside, and inside seating limited to two tables.
Derby Lane will resume greyhound racing this week after a 49-day closure because of the coronavirus pandemic, the track announced Saturday on Twitter.
The track, which closed March 20, is scheduled to begin racing Friday with a 15-race matinee performance. Derby Lane did not address how it plans to adhere to social distancing guidelines, other than to say, “Please stay home if you are showing any symptoms.”
Derby Lane has amended its schedule with matinee-only racing six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Previously, the track offered seven weekly performances with night racing on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
The track’s poker room is scheduled to reopen May 11, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Times staff writers Jay Cridlin, Sara DiNatale, Maggie Duffy, Charlie Frago, Helen Freund, Justine Griffin, Don Jensen, Ileana Najarro, Mark Puente and Kelly A. Stefani contributed to this report.
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