Daily life as we know it changed remarkably Friday, as Tampa Bay entered the first full weekend under stay-home orders aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus. The new restrictions on where and how we can shop, do business and play will certainly hurt some workers and limit any relief the weekend can bring to the ongoing public malaise, but all 2.4 million residents in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have an obligation to adhere to the orders and act responsibly. This is a test of patience and common sense for residents and government alike, and the more a collective attitude prevails, the faster and better the region will emerge from the pandemic.
Pinellas’ stay-home directive started Thursday and Hillsborough’s takes effect Friday night, directing that people stay home when possible and distance themselves in public. Called “safer-at-home” orders, the directives are an amplified appeal to residents and businesses to act responsibly by requiring that large groups not congregate and that people stay at least six feet away from others.
In practice, though, the orders are flexible enough to allow dozens of businesses to operate, from grocery and liquor stores to banks, laundromats and essential public services, like government agencies, gas stations and health care providers. The city of Tampa went too far by announcing that all city parks would by closed Friday, except for linear parks and trails, such as the downtown Riverwalk and Bayshore Boulevard. These orders should be consistent in a region where tens of thousands cross city and county boundaries every day. Children especially need a place outside right now that’s safe and convenient. It doesn’t make sense you can wait in line at the grocery or dodge the runners on Bayshore but not walk or bike through a park that’s blocks-long in size.
This week offered some promise for regional cooperation, with similar stay-at-home orders in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. But there were some rough spots. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman bragged about regional collaboration, but they too often sounded more interested in going off on their own, whether it was Castor’s move to shut down parks or Kriseman’s threat to shut down more small businesses he claims to value -- or not appearing at a news conference with Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri that could have sent a unifying signal. Some government officials also gave confusing and conflicting information about what stay-home orders would really mean. Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, among others, stood out for their calm, collaborative nature and the thoughtful balance they showed for protecting both public health and the local economy.
This weekend will provide something of a marker going forward in determining whether the steps taken so far are appropriate, or whether the region together needs to tweak its strategy for responding to this pandemic. But success or failure will largely hinge on the actions of each individual, and residents have an obligation to follow these orders. Meanwhile, government has an ongoing obligation to ensure those directives are clear, consistent and fair.
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