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ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman said Wednesday that he will not issue a city-wide “safer-at-home” order that would be tougher than what Pinellas County leaders passed that morning — but he still disagrees with how the order regulates businesses.
Kriseman says he’s concerned about allowing nonessential businesses to operate while the county leaders try to keep people in their homes to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The order allows nonessential businesses to remain open so long as they adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines, limit foot traffic inside the stores and keep customers and employees 6 feet from each other.
“Here’s the big donut hole," he said of the social distancing guidelines.
“So that language basically allows anyone to go anywhere. It means any business can remain open as long as they believe or say they can maintain social distancing.”
The mayor, standing behind a lectern at a news conference outside St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters, said an all-out shutdown of nonessential businesses is necessary to save lives and flatten the so-called curve of transmission of coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19.
But without a statewide stay-at-home order, cities and counties have been issuing orders piecemeal. In Hillsborough County, local leaders are set to vote Thursday to establish a curfew that would be in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and 24-hours on the weekends, as well as its own safer-at-home order. The Hillsborough’s order would carve out the same exemptions Pinellas has for essential businesses to operate, and for employees of those businesses to get to work.
“Economies can be rebuilt," Kriseman said. “People can’t.”
Yet, after that windup, the mayor said he would not issue a city-wide order — he doesn’t want to add “another layer” of rules.
He said, though, that he will monitor businesses over the weekend and, if he feels they are too crowded with shoppers, reserves the right to close those nonessential businesses next week.
The city has drafted a tougher safer-at-home order per Kriseman’s concerns. The city shared it with county leaders on Monday and the Tampa Bay Times obtained a copy on Wednesday. The draft order, if passed in its current form, would close all nonessential businesses with the city that require “in person attendance."
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Like the county’s order, it includes a long list of essential businesses and services, including grocery stores, gas stations, banks, hardware stores, takeout restaurants and medical facilities, that can remain open.
It would also limit “any public or private gathering of any number of people (who don’t live together) occurring outside a home.”
Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin also announced an effort to offer financial assistance to locally-owned and operated small businesses and their employees struggling amid the pandemic-fueled shutdown. Called the Fighting Chance Fund, it would provide those companies with grants.
Kriseman said City Council members were on board. Tomalin said the rollout date and other specifics still need to be worked out.
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