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Pinellas County issues 'safer-at-home' order to stop spread of COVID-19

Here's what the order means for businesses and those who live in the county.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. —

Pinellas County commissioners voted Wednesday morning to issue a "safer-at-home" order.

The resolution is to stop the spread of COVID-19 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Commissioners also voted to extend the countywide emergency order for another week.

The county is the first in the Tampa Bay area to approve such a measure. It means the county's almost 1 million people are being told to stay at home except for "essential" activities. 

The directive takes effect at noon on Thursday.

"Residents of Pinellas and the Tampa Bay area need to take this seriously," County Administrator Barry Burton said before the vote. "We need to do everything we can to stop the spread."

The order includes categories of businesses and jobs that are considered essential, like grocery stores; utilities; manufacturing and construction; government; health care facilities; gas stations; banks; hotels; laundromats and restaurants serving food to-go.

And, while county beaches remain closed, the order keeps parks and boat ramps open.

Unlike other orders around the state and country, Pinellas County's lets "non-essential" business to stay open as long as they follow CDC guidelines about social distancing. 

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman pushed for commissioners to change the language of the order and close those non-essential businesses. However, after the two-hour discussion, commissioners unanimously approved the order.

Before the vote, commissioners heard from concerned citizens, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and county health director Dr. Ulyee Choe. 

Some commissioners questioned the enforceability of such an order, and Gualtieri emphasized that the county is not shut down but that his department can enforce the order's requirements. 

"We have the right to take all enforcement actions under Florida law...including criminal violations and fines," Gualtieri said.

In a release sent after the meeting, the county said: 

"The Pinellas Commission has issued a "Safer at Home directive" effective
Thurs: businesses required to practice strict CDC social distancing guidelines
or close & residents must limit travel outside their home to slow the spread of
#COVID19." 

A spokesperson for the county said more details about the order are coming shortly after it heads to the county attorney's desk.

The move comes as other communities across the state consider similar measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she's likely to issue a stay-at-home order Wednesday, while the mayor of Orange County issued an order going into effect Thursday.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is asking anyone who sees others disregarding the "safer-at-home" guidelines should call its tip line at 727-582-TIPS (8477)

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