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Hillsborough expects vacation rental plan to gain state approval

County Administrator Mike Merrill: "It shouldn’t be a problem''

TAMPA — A day after the state green-lighted reopening vacation rentals in Pinellas, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said he anticipates similar approval for Hillsborough.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,’’ Merrill told reporters Thursday afternoon following a meeting of the Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group.

Merrill said he conferred with neighboring county administrators last weekend to prepare their reopening plans for submission to the state. They followed templates used by Bay and Escambia counties “rather than recreate the wheel.’’ The state Department of Business and Professional Regulation has already vetted those counties’ plans.

“Each of our counties has a different environment and different situation, but for the most part we relied on the same basic information. They are different (plans), but they are not much different,’’ Merrill said. “I’m anticipating ours will be approved.’’

Related: Pinellas short-term rental owners can accept new reservations

Pinellas County’s six-page plan tells property owners to advise guests to practice social-distancing guidelines and to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for employee safety and hygiene. For property cleanliness, owners must follow all state sanitation guidelines and those issued by the Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals and Vacation Rental Management Association on May 1.

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that short-term rentals could reopen once each county submitted a detailed plan on how the properties would operate. DeSantis halted new reservations in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Also during the Emergency Policy Group meeting, Hillsborough Commissioner Sandra Murman said constituents contacted her with concerns about a previously-announced plan to use a skilled nursing facility as a step-down site for senior patients ready to leave the hospital, but not able to return to their adult care facility.

"I guess some of the other residents in the facility are very, very concerned that they’re going to be exposed,'' Murman said.

Earlier this week, the county said it was using the Inn at University Village in Tampa as a 60-bed transitional unit for patients discharged from hospitals, but awaiting final clearance to return to their previous residences. Merrill, along with Hillsborough director of the state Health Department Dr. Douglas Holt and Hillsborough County Fire Chief Dennis Jones, all said the facility is suitable for that use.

It has a separate staff to care for the transition patients in a unit that has its own entrance and dining area. The rooms also are equipped with individual air conditioning units, Jones said, so there is no common ventilation.

"It’s the best case for this facility,'' said Jones. "It’s completely separated.''

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