HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL — The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group unanimously agreed Thursday afternoon to adopt a "Safer at Home" countywide order to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the community.
Following a lengthy discussion, the policy group composed of the mayors of Temple Terrace, Plant City and Tampa, three county commissioners, the sheriff and a member of the school board agreed not to use the term "curfew" in the order.
The order will go into effect Friday at 10 p.m. and will be in effect as long as the state of emergency for Hillsborough County exists. That order is renewed every seven days.
The order means that the county's 1.5 million residents must stay at home 24 hours a day unless they are performing an essential service or errand.
Based on direction from the policy group following a meeting Wednesday, County Attorney Christine Beck originally presented the policy group with a document consisting of a curfew order from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays along with a Safer at Home directive.
Beck said the difference between a directive and an order is that a directive is viewed as strongly encouraging compliance but is not enforceable through law enforcement. An order is enforceable by law enforcement if voluntary compliance is not achieved.
However, some members of the policy group questioned whether the word "curfew" was appropriate.
Plant City Mayor Rick Lott said he prefers the "Safer at Home" wording in lieu of "curfew."
If the word 'curfew' is removed from the order, said Lott, "all of our businesses will still be allowed to operate as long as they meet the directive (including maintaining a 6-foot distance from customers). It takes away the anxiety about hours and allows all the businesses to be able to operate 24 hours a day seven days a week. It accomplishes the goal we all want to accomplish here."
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Acting Temple Terrace Mayor Andy Ross, however, said eliminating the word 'curfew' might cause confusion.
"I'm not stuck on the word 'curfew' if there's an alternative but I think it's wise to keep these separate. One (Stafer at Home) is all the time and the other (curfew) is only during certain hours," he said.
"Hanging on one word is not as important as educating the public about what we're trying to accomplish," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. "The education is the critical message ... now I think we need to increase it tenfold. We're going to need all hands and heads on deck to really educate the public about what we're trying to accomplish and not give the message that we're penalizing, that we're really trying to educate them and that we're doing it for their own good."
County Commissioner Kimberly Overman noted that, even without the word 'curfew,' the order outlines requirements and best practices for all essential businesses that remain open.
"If they can't protect their employees and their customers, they need to close," she said. "We can't put a five-alarm fire out one room at a time. We have to help stop the cross contamination that is accelerating in our county, so I encourage us to move on this document today."
Ross objected, saying the document before the policy group members containing the "curfew" terminology was what the policy group unanimously agreed on during a meeting on Wednesday.
"Today, what we're contemplating here over the word 'curfew' is a very different thing, and if we're going to do this, we should have had this conversation yesterday," said Ross.
County Attorney Christine Beck said if the policy group removes the curfew terminology, it would need to make the "Safer at Home" directive an order.
School board chairwoman Melissa Snively asked what the implications of a 24-hour Safer at Home order would have on law enforcement resources.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said he wasn't as concerned about overextending his resources as much as he was about the connotation of the word "curfew."
"I certainly understand the negative connotations of the word 'curfew,'" he said. "Most people think about the movies where we turn our town into a police state and set up police checkpoints and start checking every single vehicle out during these restrictive hours. But whether you call it a curfew or a stay at home in the evening order, an order is an order. I think the word 'curfew' is causing more panic in an already panic-stricken community."
Lott asked what impact the Safer at Home order would have on businesses in the county.
Beck said all businesses that are deemed nonessential and can't maintain a 6-foot distance between employees and patrons would have to close. This includes all nail and hair salons, barber shops and massage services.
Lott also questioned the impact on hotels in the county. The wording of the order as presented to the policy group Thursday would prevent hotels from taking reservations unless the rooms are used for patients requiring isolation due to coronavirus, domestic violence victims and transitional housing for essential personnel.
"You're essentially shutting down our hotel industry in Hillsborough County," said Lott.
He suggested, instead, that the language be amended to mandate that hotels give priority to coronavirus patients and other essential personnel before taking other reservations.
Details Of The Safer At Home Order
- Residents are allowed to go out to obtain necessary food, medicine and essentials, as well as enjoy the outdoors.
- Essential businesses are required to have employees telecommute if possible.
- Businesses whose employees cannot telecommute can stay open if employees can maintain a 6-foot distance from customers and fellow employees.
- Those businesses that cannot by definition maintain the necessary physical distance from customers are required to close until further notice.
- Essential businesses are required to provide employment opportunities to those who lose jobs because of this emergency by working directly with the Career Source center and other designated employment and job agencies.
- The Safer at Home order exempts people who are doing essential work that cannot be performed at home, such as healthcare professionals, public safety employees, first responders and food preparation and delivery employees.
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