With Gov. Ron DeSantis expected to unveil Florida’s re-opening plan any day, Tampa Bay officials are exploring how to start reviving every-day life in their own communities. This will take a careful approach and a common vision. Some 3.5 million Floridians work and live in the Tampa Bay area, and their livelihoods and routines depend on a recovery that eases the barriers, confusion and anxieties of these shuttered weeks.
DeSantis is expected to spend the weekend finalizing his recovery plan, after a task force he commissioned to examine reopening Florida submitted its recommendations. The counties will take their cues from the governor, but local officials already are discussing what to open and when, safety precautions businesses must make and the safety and logistical challenges to re-opening everything from beaches and parks to restaurants, offices and shopping centers.
Local health officials have warned that the counties must continue and even accelerate testing, to keep the re-opening of business from unleashing a second wave of infections. Given that tens of thousands of Tampa Bay residents cross county lines for work every day, this testing and tracing system must be robust. County health departments across the region need to collaborate. And local agencies need to share information and resources to ensure infections are contained and don’t overwhelm the area’s hospital system.
The guidance to businesses must be equally clear and uniform. Across the region, there should be common expectations for how industries protect their workers and customers, the same rules for opening hours and social distancing and a shared strategy for further tightening or loosening restrictions as the situation warrants. A jumble of rules will only frustrate families and cause more friction between business and government.
The same goes for opening parks, beaches and other public gathering places. It makes no sense to open up the parks in one county and keep them closed in the next - or, for that matter, the beaches, boat ramps and trails. People are yearning to get outside, and it should be reasonably easy to maintain social distancing in these great public spaces. Officials should also think through a common approach for handling large gatherings and events when that time comes.
Hillsborough officials are prepared to consider at least a partial reopening, and that discussion could come as early as Monday, provided DeSantis has signaled his intentions. In Pinellas, there are encouraging signs of cooperation and seeking wide input from local officials and business owners. For example, the county has sought and received suggestions from beach communities about how and when to start gradually re-opening the 35 miles of beaches. That should come sooner rather than later, as other communities have found ways to allow residents to safely return to the beaches for their physical and mental health -- while requiring social distancing and banning any groups from plopping down on blankets or chairs.
The joint appearance this week by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman sent another positive signal about regional cooperation. Kriseman, who on Friday named nearly 20 community and business leaders he is individually consulting for advice on re-opening, said on Facebook this week that “we respect the role of the federal government, the state of Florida and our partnership with the county, but St. Pete will have its own decisions to make." His office said Friday the mayor believes a state or regional approach remains preferable, and he’s right about that.
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