PINELLAS COUNTY, FL — While Hillsborough County is sticking to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' reopening guidelines to the letter, Pinellas County commissioners are adopting a looser interpretation of the governor's orders that allow movie theaters, breweries and tattoo parlors to put out the welcome sign.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton told commissioners at Tuesday's meeting that it's been a challenge to interpret the intent of DeSantis' executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic because the orders don't outline specifics. Instead, he said they're open to interpretation so it's up to the government jurisdictions to decide how to respond.
In his latest order effective Monday that's part of his Phase 1 "Safe. Smart. Step by Step" reopening plan, Executive Order 20-123, DeSantis specified that restaurants and retail could open to 50 percent capacity. Gyms, fitness centers, barbers, hair salons, museums and libraries can get back to business provided they adhere to coronavirus guidelines. DeSantis said professional sports venues can also reopen at 25 percent. And theme parks and other attractions can open after submitting a reopening plan approved by the state.
What's unclear in the order is if DeSantis was giving examples of categories of businesses that could reopen or if he meant only the listed businesses.
In the absence of further guidelines, the Pinellas County Commission has opted for the more liberal interpretation.
In a document issued by Burton Monday, he placed cosmetology, tattoo, body-piercing and massage parlors in the same category as barbers, hair and nail salons.
He similarly placed dance and yoga studios in the same category as gyms and fitness centers.
And the county administrator lumped movie theaters and bowling alleys in with professional sports and other entertainment venues.
"The order says we're in a full Phase 1," said Burton. "Nothing within the order restricted movie theaters, didn't restrict bowling alleys, either."
Although, during a news conference Friday, DeSantis expressly said he was prohibiting the reopening of movie theaters in his latest order, Burton said that prohibition isn't reflected in the legal document.
"That was what we heard the governor say at his press conference," said Burton. "It didn't come out in the order, and all we can do is interpret the order and apply the order."
In a clear departure from the governor's order prohibiting the reopening of businesses that derive more than 50 percent of their gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages, Pinellas County has opted to allow the county's breweries to reopen if they have a food truck or restaurant associated with them, limit indoor seating to 50 percent capacity and provide outdoor seating.
Owners of local breweries and tattoo parlors didn't wait long to applaud the commission's decision.
De Bine Brewing Co. of Palm Harbor promptly posted its new hours and coronavirus guidelines on the front door of the microbrewery.
"We have missed you all and are excited to welcome you back," the microbrewery wrote on its Facebook page. "Our new hours will be noon to 9 p.m. daily following restaurant guidelines. Please remember to be patient and courteous with the de Bine Crew. Stand 6 feet apart, yo! There are signs everywhere in case you forget. The staff will be wearing gloves and maintaining our rigorous cleaning duties. Beer/wine will be served in plastic cups. Again, thank you for all the support in the past weeks of shutdown."
"Tomorrow we are open," posted Stilt House Brewery of Palm Harbor on its Facebook page, using all caps and three exclamation marks. Today will be the final day of operating to-go only. Tomorrow we will have Easy Eats serving out back. This means that we can serve up to 50 percent capacity in the taproom, in addition to outdoor seating."
Like its neighboring brewery, Stilt House Brewery put up "signs posted everywhere to remind everyone to please follow CDC guidelines and social distancing. We will post again with more details. We just wanted to share this amazing news with everyone."
Foolish Pride Tattoo Co. of Clearwater didn't hesitate, opening its doors for appointments Tuesday, while warning that customers' temperatures will be taken at the door.
Pinellas commissioners, however, drew the line at permitting crowd-attracting bars and nightclubs from reopening.
Burton told commissioners Tuesday that at least one Pinellas County bar owner is expressing his objections by filing an emergency motion for injunctive relief
JWags Saloon in St. Petersburg is filing suit against both DeSantis and Pinellas County commissioners.
"We're fighting on behalf of bar owners and employees all over Florida," the bar posted on its Facebook page.
DeSantis said bars and nightclubs will be included in the second phase of his reopening plan but hasn't set a date for the second phase.