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Hillsborough County leaders discuss governor's statewide "safer-at-home" order, plans for churches

Emergency Policy Group to discuss use of hotels for sick
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Posted at 10:46 AM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 19:22:36-04

Hillsborough County stakeholders met Thursday to discuss the Coronavirus and what actions are underway to try to slow its spread.

The Hillsborough County attorney told members of the Emergency Policy Group that Governor Ron Desantis’ most recent order pre-empts local jurisdictions. Because religious services are considered an essential service under it, the group interpreted that to mean they can’t enforce restrictions on churches.

“I just can’t understand for the life of me why he did that. Don’t understand I go to church every Sunday I’m the chairman of the deacon board at my church I pray hard each and every day. I just can’t understand knowing that this disease is spread by just being close to someone with it why that would happen,” said Commissioner Les Miller, the chairman of the Hillsborough County BOCC.

Miller specifically said he couldn’t believe the order didn’t direct religious services to not include more than 10 people or address the recommended 6 ft. of social distancing. He said he was disappointed in the governor when it came to churches specifically in the order.

In response, the EPG voted to direct communications staff to issue guidelines to all churches to suggest they follow the CDC’s distancing guidelines.

“He should have put an order out sooner, he should have been more restrictive but he has an order now and I think it should have been done much earlier. That’s the way I see it,” Miller said.

Dr. Douglas Holt with the Department of Health told members of the Emergency Policy Group the number of cases are doubling about every 6 days. The health department is in discussions with hospitals regarding surge plans in the event worst case scenarios arise.

“These alternate care sites are really part of our every day plan of whether it be hurricane or man made or natural disaster. So we have numerous facilities that can be stood up on a relatively short basis and it’s really a matter of applying that COVID19 model to that already exercised plan,” said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones.

The county said it had previously identified the Yuengling Center at USF as a possible alternative healthcare facility should local hospitals overflow.

Emergency management leaders also said two hotels were open this morning as quarantine and isolation sites for those who test positive or are exposed, and can’t stay home.

The group also addressed the reopening of testing sites. Raymond James Stadium closed Friday after wiping out all of its 900 testing kits. Now, the site will only take appointments from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. If you want to be tested you must call the county line at 813-272-5900.

Commissioners signed six-month leases with two hotels that agreed to become isolation and quarantine centers for those with COVID-19. The two adjacent hotels are on East Fowler Avenue with a total of 362 rooms.

The two hotels are the Quality Inn & Conference Center and the West Wing Hotel. The hotels will go through "medical-grade cleaning and sanitation" according to Hillsborough County.

Commissioner Overman told ABC Action News she wanted to bring up the shortage of protective personal equipment, or PPE. Overman expressed concerns over PPE and the number of available ventilators. The commissioner also wants answers from the Department of Health on the average number of days it's taking people to receive their coronavirus test results. During the meeting she was told information on a final ventilator count could be expected Friday.

The eight members of the EPG are Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, School Board chairwoman Melissa Snively, Sheriff Chad Chronister, Hillsborough County Commissioners Les Miller, Murman and Kimberly Overman, Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross and Plant City Mayor Rick Lott.