After an in-depth Emergency Policy Group meeting this afternoon, county leaders will vote tomorrow on whether they implement a ‘Safer at Home’ order for all of Hillsborough County.
The clock is ticking and local leaders, spearheaded by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, are itching to implement whichever restrictions they must to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
However, the devil is in the details and the eight members of the EPG spent more than an hour this afternoon hashing out exactly what those restrictions should be.
The EPG 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. Each had their concerns, but Castor reminded everyone at the virtual dais that this unprecedented time requires immediate action. She implored “everyone to not make this more difficult than it needs to be.”
Eventually an agreement was made and all involved attorneys for the county are drafting an order to be voted on tomorrow at the EPG’s 1:30 p.m. virtual meeting.
Confusion is the one thing all said they hoped to combat with the order, so getting to the meat of the proposed directive is key for the community to understand what is being asked of it. First and foremost, all essential services will continue to be up and running. Anyone who needs healthcare, wants to buy food or requires other necessities are welcome to go acquire those items.
Anyone who provides those services is encouraged to continue to go to work. Everyone else is asked to stay at home.
However, after much discussion among the EPG members and clarification from County Administrator Mike Merrill, another crucial definition was laid bare: if you cannot afford to not work and you cannot work from home, you are allowed to go to work as long as you can continue to abide by the six-feet physical distancing rule. If your job requires you to be closer than that and you are not in a field that has an exemption — for example, healthcare workers — you cannot go in and are asked to remain home.
There will also be a ‘Safer at Home’ directive from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. from Monday to Friday and a 24-hour ‘Safer at Home’ directive during the weekend. That means if you do not need essentials or want to recreate at a minimum of six feet apart from others, then you are asked to stay home.
Whether that directive is a curfew is yet to be decided. Curfews are much stricter and Sheriff Chad Chronister told the group he recommended they change the language to reflect a softer order.
Plant City Mayor Rick Lott was one of those at the virtual dais who wanted to omit the verbiage and follow Chronister’s suggestion. He said local law enforcement needed the support to do their jobs without worrying about having to strictly enforce a curfew and have to take into account the enforcement aspect.
Currently, the proposed initial enforcement is education and encouragement. Those who do not abide will be educated on the new order and encouraged to follow it. Hopefully that will be all it takes to get community compliance.
The order will be voted on tomorrow during the EPG meeting and, if approved, is set to go into effect at 10 p.m. Friday. This will give businesses time to make the necessary adjustments and was a major concern for several in the EPG, including Lott. Originally, the proposal was for it to go into effect at midnight following the vote Thursday and many voiced their opposition to such a fast turnaround.
“I’m getting texts from businesses in our community going, ‘How do they get their paychecks tomorrow if this goes into effect at midnight’ because they’re watching this online and so forth,” Lott said. “I know we’re saying there shouldn’t be panic, but there already is panic. I want this to go into effect as soon as possible, but we also have to make sure we allow enough time to make people understand what we are really doing here, and I don’t know how six or seven hours after we adopt something tomorrow at 1:30 or 2:30 (p.m.) or somewhere in that range allows people to have time to make good, sound decisions. I just hope we have an 8-0 vote tomorrow and if we have to sway a little bit to allow our citizens to get their arms around this so there’s less panic and less angst than we already have, I would sure be able to support this a lot easier.”
Eventually there was a consensus and the entire group amended the motion to include its initial effective date to be 10 p.m. Friday.
One massive change approved by the EPG earlier this week that already impacts local residents was the decision to open the first community collection site for COVID-19 coronavirus, which has now officially been operating for more than 24 hours at Raymond James Stadium.
Hillsborough County worked with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, BayCare, Tampa General Hospital, AdventHealth, HCA Healthcare West Florida Division and the City of Tampa to offer a “drive-through COVID-19 Coronavirus testing site for symptomatic residents.”
The site opened from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Tuesday at the stadium, 4201 N. Dale Mabry Hwy., and will remain open through Saturday or until supplies run out. It essentially is a drive-through testing site for symptomatic patients who have pre-registered through the county’s call center. The site is in the parking area south of the stadium and is bordered by Tom McEwen Boulevard on the north, Dale Mabry Highway on the west and Himes Avenue to the east. Vehicles are asked to enter from Dale Mabry or Himes.
You cannot just drive up to the location. Anyone who arrives must have pre-registered through the call center by calling 813-272-5900. A trained medical professional will be on the other end of the line and will determine if you qualify with potential COVID-19 symptoms via a pre-screening process. If you meet the requirements, they will give you the OK to arrive. The call center will have health care staff available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Anyone who does not have a designated primary care physician or is uninsured can still be eligible for pre-screening and pre-registration through the call center. Residents can also be tested if they have been pre-screened and meet testing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and the Florida Department of Health.
If you show up to be tested, you have to arrive via a personal vehicle and be seated next to a working window. Try to limit vehicle passengers to just those needing a test. Have a photo ID (Florida driver’s license, state-issued ID or passport) and bring a copy of the testing confirmation email from the Hillsborough County Customer Service Center.
When you arrive, you will be handed a tissue to blow your nose and then a swab will be inserted deep into your nose to get the sample. The test is quick and should take less than a minute. Results, however, still may take several days. You will receive your results via the phone number you give during the pre-screening.
You can listen live to the EPG’s meeting tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. online at youtube.com/user/HillsboroughCounty for further updates and to hear the result of the vote on the potential ‘Safer at Home’ order.