On March 17 and 20, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Orders 20-68 and 20-71, announcing unprecedented state-wide closures of bars and nightclubs, restaurants for on-site dining, and stand-alone gyms. Since then, additional counties and municipalities in Florida have enacted more stringent measures attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The virus has continued to spread rapidly in South Florida, including the Tampa Bay area. As of March 26, 2020, the Florida Department of Health reported 2,359 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Florida residents and 29 deaths. The counties with the highest reported cases were Dade (654), Broward (505), Palm Beach (174), and Hillsborough (151). Pinellas County reported 65 cases.

Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners issued the first safer-at-home order impacting Tampa Bay, Resolution No. 20-20. The order is effective March 26, 2020 through the expiration of the county’s declared State of Local Emergency or until the Board of County Commissioners determines that a policy change is in the public’s best interest. Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group passed a similar safer-at-home order effective 10:00 p.m. on March 27, 2020, until it is rescinded by the county’s Emergency Policy Group.

Both counties’ orders require businesses to close if they do not provide “Essential Services” or cannot maintain the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (“CDC”) social distancing and group gathering guidelines to keep at least six feet between persons.

Pinellas County

In Pinellas County, non-essential businesses must post a notice that is “clearly visible at all times to those present on the premises including patrons and employees, in a form to be established by the County Administrator.” A list of frequently-asked questions can be accessed on the county’s website. Businesses that do not comply with the order may be subject to enforcement action up to and including orders to close and criminal charges.

The Pinellas County order also broadly defines “Essential Services,” to include the following:

  • Healthcare providers
  • Grocery stores, food banks, and other establishment primarily engaged in the retail sale of food and any other household consumer products
  • Food cultivation (farming, livestock, and fishing)
  • Shelter and social services
  • Newspapers, television, radio, and media services
  • Gas stations, and auto-supply or repair
  • Financial institutions
  • Hardware, gardening, and building material stores
  • Contractors and other critical tradesmen (building management, maintenance, home security, exterminators, landscape and pool maintenance)
  • Mailing and shipping services
  • Educational institutions, to facilitate online or distance learning, perform critical research, and residence halls to accommodate students who cannot return to their homes
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food subject to the Governor’s Executive Orders 20-68 and 20-71
  • Office products suppliers (but not those primarily selling or leasing furniture)
  • Suppliers that primarily supply other essential business and do not interact with the general public, including cybersecurity firms
  • Grocery and food delivery
  • Airlines, taxis, buses and other private transportation providers
  • Home-based care for seniors, adults, or children
  • Assisted living facilities, nursing homes, adult day care centers
  • Legal or accounting services, to the extent those services comply with social distancing
  • Childcare facilities providing services that enable employees employed by employers exempted in this Order to work as permitted
  • Businesses operating at any airport or other government facility, subject to the Governor’s Executive Order 20-71
  • Logistics providers
  • Telecommunications providers
  • Provision of propane or natural gas
  • Office space and administrative support necessary to perform any of the above-listed activities
  • Architectural, engineering, or land surveying
  • Industrial distribution and supply chain facilities for essential products
  • Waste management
  • Hotels, motels, other commercial lodging establishments, and temporary vacation rentals
  • Veterinarians and pet boarding facilities
  • Mortuaries, funeral homes, and cemeteries
  • Services related directly to a governmental response to the COVID-19 crisis
  • Electrical production and distribution

Hillsborough County

The Hillsborough County safer-at-home order emphasizes that “all residents are directed to stay at home as much as possible twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” except in limited circumstances. In addition to social distancing, businesses are required to follow Florida Department of Health guidance and to use best practices, as set forth by the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, to reduce the risk of worker exposure to COVID-19 in workplaces. A violation of the order “may be prosecuted as a second degree misdemeanor punishable as provided in section 775.082 or 775.083, Florida Statutes”.

The order exempts “the following essential individuals, businesses, and services”:

  • Grocery stores, food banks, and other establishment primarily engaged in the retail sale of food and any other household consumer products
  • Restaurant delivery and drive-thru
  • Airlines, taxis and other private transportation providers
  • Gas stations, auto supply, repair, and sales facilities
  • Laundromats
  • Veterinarians and pet boarding facilities
  • Mortuaries, funeral homes, and cemeteries
  • Food cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing
  • Hotels, motels, other commercial lodging establishments, and temporary vacation rentals
  • Shelter and social services
  • Hardware and gardening stores
  • Moving, storage, and relocation services
  • Any business that employs no more than five persons, including management/ownership, where employees do not come in regular contact with the general public in the regular course of business
  • Contractors, utility workers, and other tradesmen and service providers “who provide services necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of residences and other structures”
  • Mailing and shipping services
  • Firearm and ammunition supply stores
  • Private and municipal marinas and boat launches and other marine services
  • Janitorial services
  • Clergy and religious personnel
  • Newspaper, television, radio and other media services
  • Businesses that provide food and shelter
  • Fire/Rescue, first responders, and law enforcement
  • Essential federal employees and military personnel
  • Personnel employed by an entity identified as one of the sixteen critical infrastructure sectors by the Cyber-Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)(including financial services)
  • State and local government employees providing services during this state of emergency
  • School district employees providing services during this state of emergency
  • Educational institutes as needed to facilitate online or distance learning, perform critical research, or perform essential functions, and residence halls to accommodate students who cannot return to their homes
  • Medical and health-related personnel
  • Mass transit personnel

Similar measures involving closure of certain businesses are currently effective in other counties and municipalities across Florida, including:

Employers may want to review these orders to ensure they are in compliance in all areas of Florida where they conduct business.

Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Critical information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar programs.