Hillsborough County extends local emergency, holds off on plans to re-open economy


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group (EPG) met to discuss potentially reopen the local economy on Thursday. But, a University of South Florida expert who spoke during the group’s Thursday meeting said it is like turning a dial and not flipping a switch.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she hopes to allow limited businesses to open, if proper social distancing methods are followed, within a couple of weeks. She also suggested workers and patrons wear masks.

But, an order by Gov. Ron DeSantis still stands and the EPG cannot trump that order, members said. The order bars non-essential businesses from reopening amid the crisis.

Several business owners spoke during the video and audio meeting.

“We are responsible people. We do not want government handouts. We’re tired of sitting around and waiting for government handouts and for government to allow us to go back to work,” said one business owner, whose name was not immediately known.

Another reiterated the sentiment.

“I feel that businesses know how to keep their areas safe and clean for constituents and different people that are coming through and using as well as ways to have a common sense look at doing groups,” said David Larson, who said he owns a woodworking business in Hillsborough County.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently published guidelines for businesses to use amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It is more than 30 pages.

“I had already been working with our medical experts and [Department of Health] on approaches to a local re-opening strategy that we intended to present to the EPG,” Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill wrote in a memo obtained by 8 On Your Side. “The approach ultimately ordered by the governor may limit what course local jurisdictions may take; nevertheless, we believe a community conversation here in Hillsborough is necessary and valuable. In fact, all the credible authorities on this subject emphasize that not all communities across the country manifest the virus in exactly the same way and, therefore, successful solutions and approaches to managing a re-opening should not be the same.”

Merrill went on to describe what he calls the “underpinning for building blocks.” He said the implementation of robust data collection, analytics and modeling are all important, “to ensure that we are achieving our intended outcomes and to facilitate a rapid readjustment in the strategy if
necessary.” He said it is also important to understand the disease.

Data was presented at the meeting and it showed that 1.09 percent of Hillsborough County’s 1.4 million residents have been tested for the virus.

“It’s not going away the next month, or the month after,” Mayor Rick Lott, of Plant City, said of the virus during the meeting.


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