‘We’re going to shut you down.’ Mayor gets tough during the pandemic!

Mayor Rick Kriseman said the Safe at Home ordinance is not to prevent the spread of coronavirus and issuing as citywide ordinance is not off the table.

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – On Wednesday morning, Pinellas County commissioners voted to issue a “COVID-19 – Safer at Home” order, which is an ordinance put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Taking effect on Thursday morning, Pinellas County residents are being told to stay at home except for “essential” activities. Businesses are directed to close storefront operations and limit customer foot traffic if they do not provide “essential services” or cannot maintain CDC social distancing guidelines.

Mayor Rick Kriseman, however, takes exception with the language and feels it does not go far enough in stopping the spread of the virus.

“So that language basically allows everyone to go everywhere,” said Kriseman at a press conference on March 25. “It means that any business can remain open as long as they believe or say that they can maintain social distancing.”

Kriseman said, “maintaining CDC guidelines” is not strong enough language. He explained that the city and the county have entered into uncharted territories, and difficult decisions are being made, but “economies can be rebuilt, people can’t.”

“The only way to truly save lives and to flatten the curve is to suffer the short term pain associated with a shutdown of all non-essential businesses and to stay home.”

Residents leaving their homes for non-essentials activities pose the most threats and risks to their health and the health of the community.  Essential activities include grocery shopping, going to the doctor or pharmacy, or evening getting exercise to stay healthy, but if it is not necessary to maintain day-to-day life, please stay home.

“We don’t want you going to a store because, hey, maybe this is a good time to buy a new mattress or get a picture framed,” he stressed.

Essential activities include:

  • Direct care or support of family members
  • Healthcare and medical services
  • Pharmacies, health care supply stores, and health care facilities
  • Groceries
  • Meal take-outs from local food establishments (including food banks)
  • Essential work duties that cannot be performed from home
  • Primary or emergency care or direct care support for a family member or relative
  • Banks and related financial institutions
  • Laundry services, laundromats
  • Essential home repairs and maintenance (lawn care, plumbing, roofing, etc.)
  • Outdoor activity while following CDC guidelines (examples include: walking pet, hiking, biking).
  • Veterinarians and pet boarding facilities
  • Gas stations, auto-supply and auto-repair facilities

The mayor said he “strongly disagrees” with the approach the county took in the ordinance, but will not introduce new measures for the City of St. Petersburg “for now.”

“My team and I will be paying close attention to the streets of St. Pete this weekend. We hope to not see crowds. We hope our residents are taking this virus seriously because this virus will kill you.”

Kriseman said the police will not stop people in the streets or pull over cars to question where they are going; however, they will take note if residents and businesses are not following CDC guidelines.

“And so I can’t say it strongly enough, follow the rules, follow the guidelines. If you want to stay open, you got to do it because otherwise, we’re going to shut you down.”

Although social distancing is critical, Kriseman said residents must stay home to stop the spread.

“If you really want to flatten the curve, you’re not going to be able to do it just with social distancing; you have to do it by getting people to stay in their homes and only going out…for those essential needs.”

Kriseman said if Gov. Ron DeSantis would issue a statewide uniform order, it would avoid the piecemeal approach that is happening now with 67 counties and hundreds of cities doing their own thing.

“This is not in the best interest of public health, and it leads to way too much confusion.”

Shifting the focus to the local economy, Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Dr. Kanika Tomalin explained the new “Fighting Chance Fund,” which will provide locally owned and operated businesses of a certain size and their employees some relief.

“This will not be a loan; it will be a grant,” said Tomalin. “The mayor and I have spoken with the members of city council and they all support this initiative, understand its importance and are committed to doing all they can to help with this and all other aspects of our current state of emergency and the recovery that will follow.”

Tomalin stressed that the Fighting Chance Fund is in its formative stages, and there is much work to do to align their available resources with the need. The city is committing to supplementing federal and state resources with local support in a way that will make a difference for so many people in need.

“Nothing exactly like this has been done before at the city level,” the deputy mayor said. “But we’ve not seen anything this drastic or swift before either. It requires our attention, our commitment and our innovation.”

Until there is serious state leadership, Kriseman’s priority is keeping his residents safe and the local economy from crumbling.

Keep up-to-date with the Fighting Chance Fund information at stpete.org.

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