Mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg have concerns about reopening Florida during the coronavirus pandemic

St. Petersburg and Tampa Mayors

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The Mayors of the two largest cities in Tampa Bay are cautiously optimistic about parts of the economy re-opening Monday.

On MidPoint, our guests were St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

Listen to the full show here.

Here’s WMNF’s interview from Friday with Mayor Castor, a member of Hillsborough County’s Emergency Policy Group, talking about coronavirus cases in the city.

“Actually we are on the downward side. We’ve hit the peak which was back in the beginning of April, I believe. April 5 around there. It’s a little confusing for a lot of people because our cases continue to rise while we’re saying we’re on the downward trend. But it’s proportional to the number of tests that have been run.

“We’ve really ramped up the testing. According to Dr. Lockwood from the USF medical school, we need to have 2,240 tests a day. And so we’re a ways away from that but we’re trying to get more and more and more testing done. One to get an accurate picture of the virus in our community but also as we start to open up to ensure that we’ll be able to identify any surges.”

Would you say that Tampa and the area, in general, have been able to flatten the curve? And if so, why?

“Yes, we’ve done very, very well. The reason why, I don’t know that anybody can say definitively. I believe that it’s because of the actions of our citizens.

“We put a safer-at-home order in place pretty quickly and our citizens understood the level of responsibility. That they had to stay home. They had to stay six feet away from each other. And they had to take those simple disinfecting steps. And I believe they’ve done a very, very good job of that.

“As a result we’ve been able to lower that curve down. But also one of the things I try to caution everyone with. This is not the flu. We’re not going to get over this and then start next winter with another flu season.

“Once we open up we are going to have more cases because this virus is highly contagious and it’s very, very easily transmitted and it is silent in a number of cases. And so we’re going to have more of those.

“We’ve put a series of procedures in place so that we’ll be able to identify any surges that we have and we’ll be able to get the services, the testing and the services needed to those areas very quickly.”

Some of the restrictions will be loosening. Your safer-at-home order ends Monday. Are you worried there could be more cases?

“Of course. Yes, of course, I’m worried. But I have to have responsibility to keep all of our citizens safe and healthy. But I also have a responsibility towards our economic health as well. And so I believe that this is a thoughtful opening. Very, very gradual. And it is grounded in the data from the medical community. By being slow, if there is an uptick in cases, we’ll be able to ratchet back quickly and handle it in that way.

“One of the things that I want to caution is those who are in those high-risk categories, need to stay at home. And we need to ensure that those individuals that are in the high-risk categories such as long-term care, that we continue to be incredibly rigid with our protective measures in those locations. Because we’ve seen across the nation that this virus can get in particular areas and spread very, very quickly.”

You mentioned we might have to ratchet things back and by that what you would mean is place restrictions on things that have been reopened?

“Yes, yes, exactly. And we hope not to have to do that. We’re opening up a number of our parks and we’re going to open up beaches. And we’re going to have our code enforcement officers and our police officers out throughout the community and they will be educating and encouraging individuals to not gather in large groups, to adhere to the six-foot distancing, to wear facial coverings. I cannot stress that enough.

“Someone just showed me a photograph from the pandemic in 1918, the Spanish Flu. And it was a group of individuals all standing there, women and men. They all had face coverings on and one of the men was holding up a sign that said, ‘Wear a mask or go to jail.’ We haven’t gotten to that point! But the two things that will really stop the spread of this are that physical distancing from one another but the facial coverings when you’re just not able to have that distance.”

You were the only member of the EPG the other day to vote against removing the safer-at-home orders but now you say you’re ok with that. Were you disappointed that you were the only person who voted to keep the safer-at-home orders in?

“No, I think that we should have left the safer-at-home order in place. Because while what the governor is doing is very thoughtful, I agree with that plan. The safer-at-home is not in conflict with what the governor did. And I didn’t see any need whatsoever to remove that safer-at-home order right now.

“Clearly the rest of the board didn’t see it that way and maybe they are correct. I hope that’s the case. But, again, we will open up very slowly, very thoughtfully. And we’ll continue to monitor the number of cases in our area and take action very swiftly so we don’t have any mass spread.”

Two of the ways to monitor cases. One would be testing, which you’ve already addressed. You’re saying we’re ramping up testing. The other is contact tracing. What’s the importance of contact tracing? But also, what is the city of Tampa and the community doing about ramping up contact tracing?

“That’s a very important element, the contact tracing. Say I take the test, it comes back positive. You need to find out who I have been in contact with, go out and talk to those individuals, test them and quarantine if necessary. So you can stop that spread by doing the contact tracing of individuals that test positive for the virus. So that is very important.

“That program is being run through the Hillsborough County Health Department led by Dr. Holt. And I believe that it’s in partnership with USF and they’re using volunteers from USF Health, approximately 200 individuals that they intend to deploy to do this contact tracing.

“The second element is syndromic surveillance. In essence what that does is it allows us to geomap all the cases, all the positive test results. The neighborhood, the location that those positive tests came from will be entered on a map as will the locations of individuals that present to either a doctor’s office or emergency room with the symptoms of Covid-19 and we’ll be able to put those out as well.

“And then also Hillsborough County in cooperation with USF have put a survey on Hillsborough County’s website that I would like all of you to encourage all your listeners to go on and take that survey because we will map those results as well and it will ask them if they have any symptoms, signs, those kinds of things. So through that mapping system we should be able to identify hotspots as they pop up and go out and address them immediately as opposed to allowing it spread and presenting itself a the hospital when it’s too late.

“Another area that we’re looking at is density risk. And that’s horizontal and vertical. Think of a condominium or apartment complex that goes up and hundreds of people everyday using the elevator, touching the same surface. Those kinds of locations. Or horizontal density in some close living arrangements that we have in a number of complexes throughout our community, too. So we’re looking at all of those elements on the medical side as we slowly open our community back up.”

What are some of the restrictions that the governor’s order still leaves in place?

“They still leave in place no bars will be open. Still anything that necessitates contact. Barbershops, beauticians, massage therapists. Those types.

“Really it is the retail and restaurants. They’re allowed to open at 25 percent capacity. We have been working all day, last night, and all day today and will be working the entire weekend on a program. It’s 25 percent capacity indoors so what we’re looking to do to help restaurants. Because for some of the restaurants opening at 25 capacity does them no good. There’s no profit margin there.

“And so we’re looking at a process by which we could close down streets in some neighborhoods, or allow the restaurants to use a segment of a parking lot and set up outdoor seating with the appropriate distance separation and allow individuals to come there. We’re also going to have a facial covering requirement for all of the restaurant workers in the city of Tampa as well.”

Is there anything else you want the residents of Tampa or our listeners throughout the Tampa Bay area to know?

“I want everybody to know, I saw a great quote the other day that was attributed to someone in the Armed Services. And they said, “This isn’t the end, it isn’t the beginning of the end. It’s the end of the beginning.” So please don’t let your guard down.

“You have to take the necessary precautions. Wear face coverings when you’re out and about in public. Maintain six-foot distance separation. Wash your hands. Disinfect surfaces. Continue to take those steps. Work from home if you can. We’re not bringing anybody back into the office and I don’t think that any other businesses plan to loosen up their work-from-home operations. But again stay home whenever possible. And we will get through this, and we will be much, much stronger as a result.”

According to the Florida Department of Health website, updated Monday morning, there are now nearly 36,900 positive coronavirus cases in the state. 1,399 people have died in Florida. More than 6,100 people are hospitalized; that’s a number that continues to grow. There are almost certainly more cases, because not everyone is tested.

Fewer than 446,000 out of Florida’s 21 million people have been tested – about 92% of the tests have been negative. In Hillsborough County there are 1,300 positive cases (with 29 deaths), in Pinellas 784 (with 42 deaths).

 

Listen to the 5:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 4 May 2020:

Listen to the 4:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 4 May 2020:

Listen to the 3:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 4 May 2020:

 

Listen to the 8:30 a.m. WMNF News headlines for 4 May 2020:

Listen to the 7:30 a.m. WMNF News headlines for 4 May 2020:

Listen to the 6:30 a.m. WMNF News headlines for 4 May 2020:

 

On Monday, The City of Tampa released the Lift Up Local campaign. The information below was provided by the City:

 

City of Tampa Launches Lift Up Local Campaign to Support Local Businesses to Re-open Responsibly

Tampa, Florida (May 4, 2020)—In conjunction with the Governor’s Order for a phased re-opening of restaurants and retail businesses, the City of Tampa is launching the Lift Up Local Economic Recovery Plan to support local businesses to re-open safely and responsibly.

Phase 1 of Lift Up Local will temporarily allow businesses to expand their outdoor capacity to safely serve patrons while complying with the Governor’s Order for maximum of 25% internal capacity and the CDC’s social distancing guidelines. The 14-day pilot project will enable businesses to expand their business footprint into certain exterior and open-air spaces subject to 6-foot separation requirements and other safety measures.

Starting Monday, May 4, the City will temporarily suspend certain code and permit requirements to allow restaurants and retail businesses to expand into designated public rights-of-way or to use privately owned sidewalks or parking facilities for restaurant seating or retail merchandise. The plan will enable the use of certain areas of private property (subject to landlord/management approval) not typically permitted for business activity such as: private outdoor areas, parking lots, public rights-of-way, and parklets. In all cases, the configurations must meet 6 foot separation requirements.

“We want to lift up our local businesses through this recovery and empower them to re-open responsibly,” says Mayor Jane Castor. “By giving our local business owners as many tools and as much space as possible to safely serve guests, we can work together to protect our workforce, our customers, and our community. Our small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we need their help to safely and successfully re-open our city and get back to all the things we love–one step at a time.”

 

Citywide Parklet Options

During the 14-day pilot, any business located in the City of Tampa may establish a ‘parklet’ on the sidewalk immediately adjacent to its establishment frontage or in its private parking spaces. The need to apply for a City permit is suspended during this pilot, however, landlord or property manager approval may still be required.

If available, a business may request to use adjacent City parking spaces. The City will work with the business owner to temporarily disable applicable parking meters to enable the parking spaces to be repurposed for use by the business.

Restaurants may set up tables and chairs in these ‘parklets’ subject to a set of separation and safety standards and guidance. Retailers may use the spaces for a ‘sidewalk sale’ type set-up. The City will establish one of these ‘parklets’ on Swann Avenue between Oregon and Rome to remain in place during the pilot.

 

Cafe & Retail Zones

As part of the initiative, the City has also designated 7 Cafe & Retail Zones (road closures) for businesses in concentrated areas. These zones will be blocked to traffic during the 14-day pilot (except the SOHO location which will be blocked only during the dinner/evening hours). These zones are solely intended for dining or retail uses. To participate in the zones, restaurants are required to use a reservation system to prevent congregating and loitering in the zones. Tables and chairs may not be moved or reconfigured and must be separated by 6 feet at all times.

Safety requirements and compliance with the Governor’s Order will be strictly enforced in the Cafe & Retail Zones. It is prohibited to gather in these spaces unless you are dining or visiting a retail location. Individuals and groups not in compliance will be removed from the Cafe & Retail Zones. Establishments that do not comply with operating restrictions will be prohibited from continuing to participate in use of the outdoor space.

 

The designated Cafe & Retail Zones are:

 

  • Downtown: Twiggs St (Tampa St to Franklin St)
  • Downtown: Franklin St (Madison to Polk)
  • Hyde Park Village: S. Dakota Ave/W. Snow (Swann Ave to S Rome Ave)
  • Ybor City: 7th Ave (15th St to 21st St)
  • Tampa Heights: Franklin St (Kay St to Palm Ave)
  • West River: Grand Central Ave (Kennedy to Hyde Park Ave)
  • SOHO: South Howard (Morrison Ave to Bristol Ave)**

 

Note that the SOHO Cafe & Retail zone will be in effect daily from 5 pm to 10pm. South Howard will be open for normal traffic flow during all other times (except during set-up and break-down of the Cafe & Retail zone each day).

By expanding outdoor capacity, the city hopes to support businesses in their efforts to re-open responsibly. These closures are not intended to create public gathering or social space. The Tampa Police Department will be patrolling these areas to prevent social gathering violations and the pilot program will be reassessed as needed.

 

City of Tampa COVID-19 Restaurant Requirements

To maintain public safety, all indoor and outdoor seating must maintain at least 6 feet of separation (measured between chair backs). Indoor capacity must be limited to 25%, facial coverings must be worn by “front of house” staff members who interact with the public, restaurants must use disposable paper menus, provide easily accessible hand sanitizer, and follow other safety requirements. It is also strongly encouraged to implement contactless ordering and payment options.

 

See a full list of COVID-19 Restaurant Requirements, visit tampagov.net/liftuplocal.

For the Lift Up Local Guide book, visit https://www.tampagov.net/sites/default/files/public%3A/additionalfiles/lift-up-local-guidebook.pdf

 

Learn More about Lift Up Local 

The City of Tampa is asking all businesses to re-open responsibly to support our City’s COVID-19 recovery.

 

To learn more about the Lift Up Local Economic Recovery Plan, visit tampagov.net/liftuplocal or call our Recovery Hotline at (833) TPA-INFO.

 

Local business owners are also encouraged to text TAMPABIZ to 888-777 for important updates on business requirements, economic relief, and recovery efforts.