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Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group seeks clarification from state

Posted at 11:59 AM, Apr 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-06 19:30:00-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group met Monday afternoon, where they continued discussing the governor's recent statewide safer-at-home order.

Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last week that directs residents to limit movements and personal interactions to essential services and activities until April 30.


The governor's order included recreational activities and religious activities as essential activities. It came after some local jurisdictions, including Hillsborough County, had already enacted their own versions of safer-at-home orders, creating some confusion for local leaders.

Last week, the county attorney told members of the Emergency Policy Group that the state order pre-empts local jurisdictions. Because religious services are considered an essential service under it, the group understood they couldn't enforce restrictions on churches. Instead, they sent out recommend guidelines churches would have to follow to stay in line with CDC social distancing guidance.

Over the weekend, the governor's office released a list of facts and questions clarifying parts of the order, the EPG discussed. It clarified that senior citizens and those with significant medical conditions may leave their homes to obtain or provide essential services or essential activities. People can still exercise outside if they are practicing social distancing. Regarding worship services, the state clarified they may hold service, but the department of health encourages them to follow CDC guidelines specific to faith organizations. You may visit family members to care or assist a loved one. The state also clarified local authorities can adopt requirements that are stricter than the governor's order regarding businesses and venues, including buildings, beaches and parks.

If a business is not an essential service, it must close but can operate remotely. Restaurants may still offer delivery.

Monday, the county attorney also explained to group members the state order was more stringent when it came to non-essential businesses. Under the state order, they must physically close, though they can operate remotely. The EPG agreed information should be sent to businesses, the public and trade groups.

"This is largely on the honors know someone in good faith a business owner checks it out makes the determination that they are in or out or we help them there is enforcement but clearly you all know and we all know there’s not enough law enforcement officers in the county to check every business," said county administrator Mike Merrill.

A violation of the governor's order is a second-degree misdemeanor. According to Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office records, there have been at least 181 complaints for safer at home violations since March 27th, when the county's order took effect. Seven were for religious gatherings, and many were for parties.


The EPG also sought clarification on eviction, agreeing to send a letter to the state. The governor issued an executive order suspending evictions and foreclosures, but Commissioner Sandy Murman wanted more information on how it pertains to businesses who's landlords are trying to evict them during the pandemic. Commissioner Les Miller said he was also receiving complaints about rising rent prices this month.

"Of course many people that live in those apartments lost their jobs they don’t have income and all of the sudden their rent is being increased but that was never addressed in the governors executive order," said Miller.

The EPG also agreed to send out information to citizens on federal health official's recommendations for wearing masks, including through the telephone.

The Department of Health and emergency management also updated group members. Officials said they’ve made a request for one of two field hospitals that the state is staging for low acuity patients. Their request is on hold, but not denied. They’re working with healthcare partners on the plan for any potential surges, including alternate care facilities.

Last week, they opened two hotels the county leased as quarantine and isolation sites. People are screened through the Department of Health to be a guest there. Officials said as of today, there were 6 guests in isolation and 1 at the quarantine site.

Last week county officials said they expected to receive 44,000 rapid tests kits to begin testing first responders and critical health care professionals. Monday, officials said they expected the delivery at any time, but no later than April 15th.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue reports they've had a couple members positive, and 15-60 members in quarantine depending on the day. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reports 5 members quarantined. Tampa Police Department said 26 officers are in quarantine, and two officers have tested positive. Tampa Fire Rescue reports 33 people in quarantine, spread across three different shifts. Two of their members have tested positive, one who was on leave and one that was line of duty related.

The EPG meets again on Thursday. The group is made up of the county administrator, mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, three Hillsborough County Commissioners and the chairperson of the Hillsborough County school board. The group has authority during declared emergencies.