BROOKSVILLE — Unlike other Florida jurisdictions, Hernando County officials had not issued strict health-related restrictions on residents as of Wednesday morning. But County Administrator Jeff Rogers said they are making decisions a day at a time, based both on the growing number of people infected by the coronavirus and by how citizens are behaving.
The county encourages residents to get out and exercise and to use parks that are open, he said, but they must follow social-distancing rules and not gather in groups. That is easier at some parks than others, he added, and new rules will be considered if conditions change.
"We’re trying to follow the guidelines, but I will tell you that two weeks from now, it is going to be tougher than it is today, because people are going to be tired of staying in their house,'' Rogers said.
Both county and Brooksville officials say they hope residents do their part to help local businesses, especially restaurants offering curbside and take out meals.
Brooksville Mayor Joe Bernardini wrote an open letter to the city’s 8,000 residents, urging them to stay home if they can.
"It’s an unprecedented time in the City of Brooksville regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and the safety and public health of our community is our top priority,'' he wrote. “The city continues to monitor the situation very closely and is following all guidelines from the President of the United States, Florida governor, Centers for Disease Control and our local health department.”
“We made the difficult decision to close City Hall and numerous departments for public access,” he wrote, adding that "city services have continued without interruption to include sanitation, water and sewer, public works projects, building permits, public safety and city administration.
"Please take this ever-changing situation seriously.''
Monday’s City Council meeting is canceled and tentatively rescheduled for April 13. City officials are working on a way for people to participate remotely.
Both Brooksville and Hernando County are operating under a state of local emergency, giving them more flexibility with purchasing and other government responsibilities. Those declarations could help them apply for federal reimbursement of some costs.
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The Hernando County Sheriff’s staff reported that there was a learning curve for social-distancing rules put in place by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but no significant problems.
“We sincerely thank those who are using common sense in their daily lives to prevent the spread of the virus," said Sheriff Al Nienhuis. "Those who are ignoring the orders and are acting in an unsafe manner are endangering others and forcing the governor and other leaders to implement further restrictions.”
The county government is still open for business, Rogers said, and about 50 staff members are working at home.
"It’s instilling in us the future generation’s way of doing life more quickly through technology than maybe it would have otherwise been instilled,'' he said.
Rogers stressed the county’s support for local businesses. Helping them might be one of the first chores given to the county’s new Economic Development Technical Advisory Committee appointed by the County Commission last month.
"I think as a whole, Hernando County has performed incredibly well,'' said Hernando County Commission Chairman John Mitten. "Yes, in every community you’re going to have outliers, because on the one side you have fear and anxiety, and on the other, frustration and anger.''
"I think this is going to get worse before it gets better,'' he said. He is encouraged by Hernando County’s seemingly lower infection rate than in surrounding areas and credits the character of the community.
"I think people are adhering to the guidelines,'' he said. "We want to give people every opportunity to do their duty to love their neighbor by staying away from them.''
Hernando County’s rural nature is also a plus, he noted.
County decisions will be "data driven,'' he said, and he urged citizens to gather their information from trusted sources, such as the state health department.
The Florida Department of Health website is floridahealth.gov. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is at cdc.gov. For Hernando County Emergency Management visit hernandocounty.us/departments/departments-a-e/emergency-management.
“Every day, I see new ways that people are finding to help one another,” Bernardini wrote. "In the not-so-distant future, we look forward to our families and friends gathering in our parks, the wide-open doors of our churches welcoming parishioners back and our businesses getting back to work.''
“To be sure, we will see those brighter days coming soon.”