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Rick Kriseman blasts Pinellas County ‘safer at home’ ‘donut hole,’ but won’t implement his own policy … yet

Kriseman has a more restrictive policy ready to go if it’s needed.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman expressed frustration with a newly-approved Pinellas County safer at home resolution he says is too relaxed.

But speaking during a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Kriseman said he would not establish his own order to impose harsher restrictions, at least not yet.

“I have an order that if I need to enter it, we’ll enter it,” Kriseman said.

But he wants to avoid confusion by having a patchwork of regulations at the city and county level.

“I do believe it would be unwise to add another layer of confusion to this,” Kriseman said. “The county’s actions will apply to St. Pete for now.”

Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved earlier in the day a resolution that would order people to stay in their homes whenever possible, but would allow for individuals to carry on with life relatively unfetterred as long as they were practicing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing.

Kriseman’s order, neatly tucked into his back pocket should it become necessary, makes a significant change to the county’s order regarding businesses.

Under that resolution, any business can stay open, even if it provides non-essential goods and services, as long as they practice CDC social distancing guidelines. Kriseman called that a “donut hole.”

“That basically allows everyone to go everywhere,” Kriseman said. “Maintaining CDC guidelines in my opinion is simply not strong enough language.”

His order, should he ever decide to implement it, would force all non-essential businesses — things like retail mattress stores, picture framing businesses or book stores — to close.

“Economies can be rebuilt, people can’t,” Kriseman said. “The only way to truly save lives and truly flatten the curve is to suffer the short term pain.”

Kriseman said he and his staff would be monitoring St. Pete businesses, particularly those clustered in the downtown area, this weekend to see if business owners and patrons are heeding the now-mandated social distancing requirements.

If they’re not, he may be forced to take action.

But Kriseman didn’t make the threat without relief to back it up. He announced the city, under the leadership of Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin, are working “day and night” to establish a “fighting chance” fund for small businesses and their employees.

The fund would establish grants — not loans — for small businesses in hard-hit sectors to provide relief.

Tomalin said the program is in its formative stages, but she hopes to have details ready for the public as well as instructions for businesses to apply as soon as possible.

“This is not easy work. Nothing exactly like this has been done at the city level. We’ve not seen anything this drastic and swift before either,” Tomalin said. “But we are prepared to do the necessary work.”

Also Wednesday, Hillsborough County, through its emergency policy group, tentatively approved a frame work for a safer at home order similar to Pinellas County’s. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, before the county decided to take action, had been prepared to issue her own similar order. None are as restrictive as what Kriseman proposes.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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