Pinellas County to reopen movie theaters, setting up potential clash with Gov. DeSantis

DeSantis made it clear Monday’s latest round of openings did not include movie theaters.

Pinellas County is giving the green light to movie theaters to reopen, effective Monday in conjunction with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Full Phase One” reopening.

The move sets up a potential clash between the Governor’s office and local government.

DeSantis made it clear Friday when he announced Monday’s latest round of openings that it did not include movie theaters.

“I’m not saying that we’re never going to do that but I believe, and I’ve been a broken record on this, when you’re in an enclosed indoor environment the virus is just more transmissible,” DeSantis said.

But his written order, EO 20-123, makes no mention of movie theaters, leaving wiggle room for Pinellas County to interpret movie theaters as in-play for reopening.

The latest reopening order lists restaurants, retail, sports venues, vacation rentals and others, but not movie theaters.

Meanwhile, DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force recommended opening movie theaters in Phase One, with social distancing and sanitizing measures in place. The term “full phase one” could seem to imply that it opens up parts of the economy left out in the first step.

That’s what Pinellas County officials are going on.

“It didn’t come out in the order, and all we can do is interpret the order and apply the order,” Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said in a Monday Facebook live question and answer session.


Burton said during that event the order would require 50% capacity. The county’s written guidance for businesses, however, makes no mention of limited capacity.

It includes not just movie theaters, but also concert halls, auditoriums, bowling alleys, arcades, playhouses and casinos. The only restrictions listed include required cleaning and disinfecting and employee use of facial coverings.

The Governor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification. Pinellas County Commissioners meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday and are likely to discuss the opening decision.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Commission Chair Pat Gerard said Burton’s guidance and interpretation does not require commission approval.

“The Governor’s orders have been so vague, that now we’ve taken to go back to his original Phase one, Phase two,” Gerard said. “Now one is completely implemented.”

“The things he says in his press conferences are different than what he actually writes in his orders,” she added.

In the meantime, Pinellas County’s decision could trigger additional action from DeSantis’ office.

That’s what happened following DeSantis’ initial stay-at-home order when Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister arrested a pastor for hosting a large in-person congregation, bunking the order restricting gatherings of ten or more.

DeSantis then issued an update to his order clarifying religious gatherings were not included in the order and preempting local governments from taking their own action.

Gerard said she welcomes that move.

“If that’s what he wants, we’d love to have that guidance.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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