The Pinellas County Safer-At-Home Order
On March 25, the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the “COVID-19 – Safer at Home” Order. A copy of the resolution can be found here.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, can cause severe illness and death, and is extremely contagious. It is much more serious than the flu, and the high number of patients that require hospitalization are overwhelming hospitals across the globe. As a result, more people are dying who otherwise might not. In order to “flatten the curve” by limiting the spread of the disease locally and help our healthcare system avoid being overwhelmed by large number of COVID-19 patients, the County has issued an order that we are “safer at home” and should remain there but for some exceptions.
The COVID-19 Safer At Home Order provides that if your business is deemed to provide an Essential Service, you may continue to operate. The list of essential services is long, and can be found here. Essential businesses must operate in accordance with CDC guidelines to the fullest extent possible. CDC guidelines are simple but important: no gatherings of more than 10 people together; and individuals must be able to maintain a distance of 6-feet away from each other. More detailed guidance from the CDC can be found here.
If your business does not provide an Essential Service, you must close down your storefront and limit customer foot-traffic unless you can operate in accordance with CDC social distancing guidelines: no gatherings of more than 10 people together; individuals must be able to maintain a distance of 6-feet away from each other.
Other requirements of the order, and earlier enactments at the state and local level require the following:
- Places of public and private assembly, whether operating indoors or outdoors, are ordered to close. The list of these type of places includes: locations with amusement rides, carnivals, water parks, publicly accessible pools, zoos, museums, arcades, fairs, publicly accessible children’s play centers, publicly accessible playground equipment, theme parks, bowling alleys, pool halls, movie and other theaters, concert and music halls, country clubs, social clubs and fraternal organizations.
- Restaurants and Bars are limited to takeout and delivery service.
- All gyms must close.
- Public beaches and parks are closed to the public and concessions at these facilities are closed.
- All bars, restaurants and nightclubs (establishments deriving more than 50 percent of their gross revenue from alcohol sales) must cease serving alcohol by 5 p.m.
- Restaurants must limit their occupancy to no more than 50 percent of occupancy, maintain a 6-foot separation between groups of patrons, and limit parties to no more than 10 people.
This list is not exhaustive, so if your business is not specifically referenced in the Safer at Home order, you still may be required to close if you cannot follow the CDC Guidelines. Gatherings of family units, or single household or living units, are permitted, so long as they follow CDC Guidelines. Places of worship are not included in the list, however they remain ordered to follow CDC Guidelines. The orders are repetitive, but are important. If you’re going to gather, follow CDC Guidelines: no gatherings of more than 10 people together; and individuals must be able to maintain a distance of 6-feet away from each other.
Businesses that do not provide essential services that continue to operate, must post a notice (a copy of which can be found in English, Spanish and Vietnamese) in a place that is clearly visible at all times to those present on the premises, including patrons and employees. The notice identifies the requirements of the Order for conducting business, indicates that the requirements of the Order have the force of law and may be enforced, and provides contact information for reporting suspected violations. The CDC has also recommended other notices be posted at your business. The link to those resources can be found here.
The Order makes clear that law enforcement is authorized to enforce this law. Moreover, if businesses and individuals are not abiding by the ordinance, the County has the authority to enact a stricter order, as has been done in California and New York. In an effort to minimize the economic disruption we are all struggling with, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and others are encouraging businesses and individuals generally to abide by the restrictions and avoid the more serious orders and economic effects of a stricter shutdown.
If you are allowed to operate within the bounds of the Order, but your landlord has shut down your building, or you are otherwise stopped from operating your business, it is vital that you get everything in writing. Doing so can protect your rights in many ways, as it gives you proof that you don’t have physical access to your workspace. This can be used when making a claim to your insurance company, in your application for federal, state or local assistance, and to the courts should you have a lease or other dispute. Requiring that you get the restriction be memorialized in writing may have the added benefit of encouraging the landlord to let you in, rather than block you, and potentially lose rent as a result.
Further information can be found in this Frequently Asked Questions bulletin issued by Pinellas County.