Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, along with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and Sen. Janet Cruz, updated Tampa residents Tuesday on efforts to combat the coronavirus — both the spread and the economic fallout.
“We’ve been taking critical steps every day to protect Tampa,” Castor said during an afternoon press conference at an outdoor section of the Tampa Convention Center.
Those steps include setting up meal drops for students out of school because of the coronavirus, working with state and federal officials to promote access to emergency loans for small businesses, exploring options for displaced employees and facilitating drive-thru coronavirus testing sites.
Castor is also working with her administration to set up a call center for residents to seek information about the virus, testing and services available to those experiencing hardship as a result of the virus. That call center should be up and running by the end of Tuesday.
The other Castor, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, highlighted federal programs available to individuals impacted by the virus and its trickle down into the economy.
Congress previously approved an $8.3 billion aid package that provides preparedness dollars for state and local public health agencies. It includes $3 billion for diagnostic testing and vaccine development.
“No one is satisfied with the progress, however,” Castor said, noting that more needed to be done.
The federal government is also providing up to $7 billion for no- or low-interest loans for small businesses.
The Coronavirus Families First Response Act provides free coronavirus testing to qualifying individuals with symptoms whether those individuals have health coverage or not. The bill has passed the U.S. House, but the Senate has not voted.
The federal government is also advancing its summer meals program to provide meals to students who are out of school because of the virus. Hillsborough will begin handing out meals next week through that program.
The aid package also includes emergency paid sick leave for individuals missing work due to illness from the virus or to care for a sick child. Under that program, workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees can receive 100% of their regular salary for up to two weeks.
Another leave program would provide up to 12-weeks of paid leave for parents who have to care for children displaced from school.
Congress is also working on enhanced unemployment benefits that would extend to displaced workers in the same way employees who lose their jobs obtain unemployment benefits.
Castor cautioned, however, that in Florida unemployed workers can only use that benefit for 12-weeks rather than the 26 weeks that’s available in other states. She said she has encouraged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to extend the state’s benefit to the 26-week threshold, at least.
Cruz, meanwhile, highlighted the state’s small business emergency loan program. The state allocated $50 million for the program, which small businesses can apply for on a first come, first served basis to help cover losses due to the virus. Applications for that program are available online.
She also noted that the state has set aside $300 million for coronavirus response.
“I’ve been in the Legislature for almost 10 years and we’ve been very good stewards of taxpayer money,” Cruz said. “We have reserves that should cover that. If necessary we’re prepared to go back to Tallahassee when we’re not in Session to make adjustments.”
Earlier in the day, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill also gave a coronavirus update.
He said a countywide last call for alcohol would go into effect at 10 p.m. In Tampa, last call had been 3 a.m. He also said the county is abiding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to cancel gatherings of 50 or more people, a mandate that will apply to gatherings on public or private property.
Merrill is also working to implement drive-thru testing sites to offer a safe and efficient way to get residents who think they might be ill tested.
“The city of Tampa and the county have been identifying sites that we are standing up now to provide these drive-thru services,” Merrill said.