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Curfew May Be Voted On In Hillsborough Thursday; 'Shelter In Place' On Hold

Hillsborough County Center building
Hillsborough County
Hillsborough County Center

An order for everyone in Hillsborough County to abide by a curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. may be voted on as soon as Thursday, after a countywide emergency policy group postponed a decision on Monday. 

The group, made up of county commissioners, three city mayors, the sheriff and head of the county school board. also indicated it may not issue a shelter-in place order for Hillsborough residents right away.

That may be discussed "at a later date," said County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who led a proposal to get more information before issuing a countywide curfew.  The two-day delay was approved by a 6-2 vote, with Commissioner Kimberly Overman and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor voting no. 

The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group met via conference call Monday to discuss the county's response to coronavirus.  Castor had pressed the group to enact a stay-at-home order to blunt an expected surge of cases of COVID-19.

"Ths is asking people to stay inside, stay away from each other. There are exemptions for businesses to remain in operation," Castor said during the teleconference. "If we continue to put off and put off and put off this to wait for more information, we're going to get behind on this virus.''

"This is going to save lives," she said. "The longer we wait, the more people are going to get infected. This is the right thing to do. The more we kick this down the road, the more people are going to die in this community."

Dr. Douglas Holt, head of the Hillsborough County office of the Florida Department of Health, said an order for people to stay at home might not be the best thing to do with just a local or a regional approach, as Gov. Ron DeSantis is not yet ordering shelter-in-place statewide.

But Donna Petersen, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida, said a stay-at-home plan would be the best way to slow the spread of the virus.

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller said he didn't believe the county could issue a shelter-in-place order until their next meeting Thursday, at the earliest. Miller said enacting stay-at-home while neighboring counties don't could create "chaos."

Murman said she would like to hear what other counties are planning to do, because of the large numbers of people from surrounding counties who work in Hillsborough. Plant City Mayor Rick Lott agreed, saying measures that are already in effect to limit crowds in restaurants and bars is already helping keep people apart.

Hillsborough County School Board Chairwoman Melissa Snively said she couldn't support it either, saying the county should wait for more resources and direction from the state.

County Commissioner Kimberly Overman favored stay-at-home, saying a curfew wouldn't reduce the amount of people who can gather together and pass along the virus.

Mayor Castor, a former Tampa police chief, said a stay-at-home order would be easier for law enforcement to enact, because everyone except "essential personnel" would not be allowed outside their homes at night during a curfew.

As of 11 a.m. on Monday, Hillsborough County was home to 73 people who tested positive for COVID-19. Florida Department of Health data show that it is affecting residents ages 6-79, with an average age of 40. No deaths have been reported in the county.

That compares to the 258 cases reported in Broward County, the most-affected county in the state.  

Also, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said a drive-thru testing site at Raymond James Stadium should be ready Wednesday. But they have only 900 swabs, which would be used up “in a day or two.”

The group is comprised of three County Commissioners, the mayors from the cities of Plant City, Tampa, and Temple Terrace, the Hillsborough Sheriff, and Chairman of the School Board. They are authorized by the state Constitution to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the County’s residents during declared emergencies.