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Hillsborough County strengthens ‘safer at home’ directive to an order; will go into effect Friday

The order requires social distancing; enforcement options available for non-compliance.

The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group unanimously approved a safer at home order Thursday afternoon that will go into effect Friday at 10 p.m.

The order will require all residents and open businesses to maintain Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing, including maintaining a six-foot distance from others.

Any businesses considered non-essential that could not meet that requirement would be forced to close.

Examples of businesses that will not be able to operate under the county’s order include things like, hair and nail salons, barber shops and hair stylists, massage parlors and alternations.

The group, which is comprised of representatives from county government, all three cities in the county, the Hillsborough County School Board and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, made some changes to the order that had previously been contemplated.

The previous language would have also implemented a curfew weekdays from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. and 24-hours a day on weekends, though that restrictions was legally almost identical to the provisions of the safer at home requirements. The board struck that language entirely.

Members also voted to change language from a directive to an order, which allows police officers and Sheriff’s deputies to enforce the order.

“A directive is strongly encouraging compliance, but it would not be enforceable through law enforcement,” said County Attorney Christine Beck. “An order is enforceable if needed and if all of the other attempts to achieve voluntary compliance cannot be achieved.”

Chronister supported both removing the curfew language, which he said carried negative connotations but did little to strengthen enforcement opportunities, and making it an order instead of a directive.

“I would advocate for this to be an order so that it’s clear and concise and so that law enforcement understands they can enforce the order,” he said.

The order still permits residents unlimited ability to obtain necessary food, medicine and essentials.

Essential businesses can remain open, but are still encouraged to adhere to social distancing standards to the extent possible. Essential businesses include things like grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and banks.

Under the order, essential businesses would be directed to provide employment opportunities to those displaced from jobs as a result of the order by working with CareerSource Florida or other designated employment job agencies.

Hillsborough County Commission Chair Les Miller said the order does give law enforcement the ability to enforce the order if people are not complying.

“There’s a possibility that you may be arrested and there’s a possibility that you may be fined, but we hope it doesn’t come to that,” Miller said Wednesday.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill added that the idea is to start with education before moving to enforcement. Law enforcement would disperse gatherings and educate businesses about rules under the order, but if the directive is still not being followed, enforcement, including closing businesses, is an option.

A similar order in Pinellas County went into effect Thursday at noon. That order requires businesses to display fliers in their doors or windows outlining CDC social distancing guidelines, informing patrons and employees that the restrictions can be enforced, including business closure for non-compliance, and including a phone number to report violations.

So far 142 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in Hillsborough County, up 19 cases from Wednesday evening. The county is currently testing individuals by about 200 per day through Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, but the county had to suspend appointments because they had already reached the 900 limit dictated by lack of supplies.

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 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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