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  1. Opinion

A rational, regional approach to stay-at-home orders on coronavirus | Editorial

It’s good to send a consistent message. Ultimately, it’s up to individuals to follow federal guidelines and observe social distancing.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor (top left), Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (bottom left) and Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton. [Times]

Tampa Bay officials embraced a rational, regional approach Wednesday by moving forward with stay-at-home orders that strike an appropriate balance between promoting public health and recognizing the economic impact on employees and businesses as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds. Limiting the spread of this virus ultimately depends on individuals acting responsibly, practicing social distancing and uniting in a common effort to get through this crisis.

The stay-at-home orders approved by the Pinellas County Commission Wednesday and expected to be approved Thursday in Hillsborough are a reasonable approach, particularly given the lack of hard facts about the speed of the spread of the virus in Tampa Bay because of a lack of testing. They are primarily aimed at sending a message that residents should redouble their efforts to follow federal guidelines regarding social distancing and limiting contact with others.

The bottom line: There are many exceptions listed in the Pinellas and Hillsborough orders regarding essential businesses that can remain open such as groceries, gas stations and financial institutions. There also is guidance to individuals who should limit their activities to getting health care, groceries, gas or a handful of other essentials. Restaurants and bars, schools and universities and other large gathering areas remain closed. But private businesses generally can remain open as long as they follow social distancing and federal guidelines. For now, at least, this remains the best approach to helping residents, workers and business owners who are following the rules to cope in this new world.

The Pinellas effort reflects the cooperation needed between multiple local governments to send a clear message -- and the difficulty of promoting public health without triggering significantly more job losses. As Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch noted, it is impossible to eliminate all coronavirus risks and unwise to kill even more jobs and businesses that may never come back. The commissioners correctly rejected St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s push to force the closings of nonessential businesses even if they follow social distancing guidelines. A 30-day shutdown or longer would permanently kill many of the very businesses the mayor claims to support, and they are the lifeblood of the city.

"Economies can be rebuilt,'' Kriseman said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "People cannot.''

That is a false narrative. Public health is paramount. But many small businesses will not survive this crisis, the unemployment rate will soar and families will struggle to pay mortgages and rent. The city announced a new fund to help local businesses and workers, and that’s great. But is Kriseman prepared for the city to feed, house and care for all of those residents who would lose their businesses and jobs under more severe restrictions?

In Hillsborough, there was a bumpier road to reach agreement than in Pinellas. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor had floated the possibility the city would go it alone after the county’s emergency policy board rejected her proposed stay-at-home order Monday. But the Hillsborough group expressed support for a countywide measure Wednesday, effectively embracing the Pinellas language and adding a nighttime and weekend curfew as a public attention-grabber. Hillsborough is expected to formally approve the measure Thursday, with the stay-at-home measure taking effect Friday night.

This regional cooperation is the only effective strategy for limiting the spread of coronavirus throughout the Tampa Bay metro area. The Tampa Bay Partnership lent its valuable voice Wednesday when the business group urged the three area counties to find common solutions “that cross county lines," and now Pasco County also is interested in a coordinated approach.

We’re all in this together. It is critical to have a common approach for Tampa Bay as residents continue to stay at home and adjust their daily routines to survive this unprecedented crisis. The best way for residents to avoid more restrictive actions by the government is to use common sense and follow the rules.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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