Coronavirus: Hillsborough Limits Gatherings To 10 People, Announces Drive-Thru Testing Sites

Mar 19, 2020
Originally published on March 19, 2020 5:50 pm

Hillsborough County will open drive-thru coronavirus testing sites at Raymond James Stadium and the Florida State Fairgrounds – as soon as necessary supplies comes in.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said at a Thursday Emergency Policy Group meeting that the hold-up has been a shortage of materials to collect specimens from patients, like swabs and protective gear.  

RELATED: Florida Adds More Drive-Thru Coronavirus Testing Sites, But Supplies Are Limited

"We can't open drive-thru facilities without the ability to take the samples and have a reliable system to track them,” he said. “The sites are ready with all the other logistics, and as more testing equipment is available, we'll open more facilities."

Merrill said the stadium site will open first, followed by the fairgrounds.

The group, made up of county commissioners, the sheriff and local mayors, also voted to limit gatherings to ten people to combat the spread of the coronavirus. That’s down from the 50-person limit they implemented earlier this week.

The county is following social distancing recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The group could not agree on whether to establish a curfew or further restrict restaurants.

Merrill's call for a county-wide curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. was met with mixed feelings.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she disagreed with the proposal.

“I think that that’s going to come at a point, but right now I don’t see the value of it and it would be an imposition to law enforcement to put that on their plate right now” she said.

Plant City Mayor Rick Lott worries it could create confusion, particularly for people who work at night.

“To add a curfew right now, I'm afraid that we’re going to add a lot of hysteria into Hillsborough County,” he said.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister supports a curfew..

“We’re certainly not looking as law enforcement to go out and arrest everyone who breaks curfew,” he said, adding that a curfew gives his office a mechanism to send people home they see congregating in public. “This is the only way that we’re going to break the cycle of spreading the virus.”

Commissioner Kimberly Overman supports the idea of limiting community spread, but said exceptions would have to be made for people with jobs, family obligations or health concerns.

Commissioner Sandra Murman felt 9 p.m. was too early, but said she expects they’ll have to implement some sort of curfew soon.

At the suggestion of Chairman Les Miller, the group decided to take a deeper look at who may be affected by a curfew and revisit the issue at a later date.

RELATED: WUSF's complete coronavirus coverage

They also tabled a proposal to close restaurants to dining service and allow takeout and delivery to be available 24/7.

Some members of the group said that would help with social distancing, while others said it could run restaurants who mostly rely on dining service to go out of business.

The county extended its state of emergency for another week. The group is expected to meet again next week but could convene sooner.   

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