Hillsborough has first COVID-19 death; “safer at home” order starts Friday

Hillsborough County Florida coronavirus

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Beginning Friday night, Hillsborough County will be under what’s called a “Safer at Home” order. It’s similar to what went into effect Thursday at noon in Pinellas.

In a unanimous vote Thursday afternoon, Hillsborough’s Emergency Policy Group voted to implement the policy with two main changes from what they agreed on Wednesday.

First, it will be called an “order” rather than a “directive.” According to the county’s attorney, a directive would have strongly encouraged compliance but an order can be enforced by police, if necessary.

In addition, the word “curfew” was dropped – the Safer at Home order will apply 24 hours a day.

The changes were supported by Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister.

“I certainly understand the negative connotation that comes with ‘curfew.’ Most people think about the movies when we turn our county into a police state and we set up police checkpoints and we start checking every single person in a vehicle that’s out during these restrictive hours. So I understand why people are hung up on the word ‘curfew.’

“They serve as the same if you look at the two orders. Whether you call it a stay-home order, evening or you call it a 24-hour stay-at-home order. An order is an order. The intent is the same. The intent is to restrict movement.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller: “So you don’t want the word curfew utilized. You recommend that we don’t use the word curfew. Is that what you’re saying?”

“I think that the word curfew is doing nothing but causing more panic in an already panic-stricken community, Mr. Chair. I’d like to see us strike the word curfew and have a 24-hour stay-at-home order, making sure that our community understands the exemptions that are applicable.

“If you have a legitimate purpose to be away from your home, you’re fine being away from home. If not, we’re asking you to stop the spread of the virus by limiting your actions to being at home.”

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Essential work is still allowed as are trips for medicine or groceries. But according to the county, most nail salons, hair stylists, barbershops, alterations shops and spas would have to close.

The next meeting of the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group is Monday.

Thursday’s vote was a quick turnaround from a contentious meeting Tuesday when a shelter at home order was voted down despite pleas from Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and County Commissioner Kimberly Overman.

Thursday, the group also extended the county’s local emergency order for another week.

The Hillsborough County Health Department says a 69-year-old Hillsborough resident diagnosed with COVID-19 has passed away at home. This is the first person to die in the county from the disease caused by coronavirus.

The St Petersburg Police Department says that a non-sworn employee who works in its Emergency Communications Center tested positive for COVID-19. Four other employees who may have come in contact with the sick worker have self-quarantined at home. The center has 77 employees who work as call-takers and dispatchers for our 911 and non-emergency calls. They maintain social distance.

The Florida Department of Health says that as of Thursday morning there have been 2,355 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state. That’s up nearly 400 since last night. There have been 28 deaths in Florida.

Here’s the county-by-county breakdown of positive coronavirus cases in the Tampa Bay area. There are 142 in Hillsborough, 64 in Pinellas, 24 in Manatee, 34 in Sarasota, 19 in Pasco and 17 in Polk.

The Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center says the county will no longer make COVID-19 drive-through test appointments because they’ve reached the limited number of test kits. The county made appointments for 900 residents since opening this week. No more appointments will be made for the drive-through test site until further notice.

Listen to the 5:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 26 March 2020:

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Here’s information provided by Hillsborough County about its coronavirus “Safer-at-Home” order:

Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group Approves “Safer-at-Home” Order

COVID-19 coronavirus Update No. 28

Hillsborough County, Fla. (March 26, 2020) – The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group (“EPG”) this afternoon unanimously agreed to issue a “Safer-at-Home” Executive Order in an effort to help curtail the spread of
COVID-19 coronavirus in our community.

The order will go into effect on Friday, March 27, 2020, at 10 p.m. The “Safer-at-Home” order will remain in place until it is rescinded by the Emergency Policy Group. Additionally, the EPG extended the local State of Emergency for seven days.

The “Safer-at-Home” order will include multiple components aimed at having residents stay at home whenever possible. Highlights approved by the EPG during today’s meeting include:

Allowing residents the ability to obtain necessary food, medicine, and essentials, as well as being outdoors and enjoying recreation.
Requiring essential businesses to have employees telecommute if possible.
Allowing businesses whose employees cannot telecommute to stay open if employees can maintain a 6-foot distance from customers and fellow employees.
Workers who could not maintain 6-foot physical distance from customers could not work; those businesses that cannot by definition maintain the necessary physical distancing from customers would be required to close until further notice.
Requiring essential businesses to provide employment opportunities to those who lose jobs because of this emergency by working directly with CareerSource and other designated employment and job agencies.

The “Safer-at-Home” order will exempt persons who are doing essential work that cannot be performed at home, such as health care professionals, public safety employees, first responders, and food preparation and delivery. For a complete list, resident should visit HCFLGov.net/StaySafe.

A state of local emergency is in effect in Hillsborough County in response to COVID-19. Under this declaration, County Administrator Mike Merrill has the authority to carry out all emergency responsibilities delegated by the EPG, including taking whatever prudent action is necessary to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the community.

The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group is comprised of three County Commissioners, the mayors from the cities of Plant City, Tampa, and Temple Terrace, the Sheriff, and Chairman of the School Board. Authority is granted by Article 8 of the Florida Constitution, Section 125.66 and Chapter 252, Florida Statutes. Hillsborough County enacted Hillsborough County Code of Ordinances and Laws Chapter 22, Article II, Sections 22-23 in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the County’s residents during declared emergencies.

The Emergency Policy Group is next scheduled to meet virtually at 1:30 p.m.
Monday, March 30.

Get Connected. Stay Alert.
For more information on COVID-19, and any other potential emergency in the county, visit HCFLGov.net/StaySafe and sign up for the HCFL Alert system.
Additionally, you can follow Hillsborough County on social media at Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor for updates. For general County information, call (813) 272-5900, the County’s main information line.