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Lawyer: Palm Beach County's emergency order to close businesses 'creates confusion'

Order lays out law during coronavirus pandemic
Coronavirus text over background
Posted at 1:42 PM, Mar 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-26 21:25:39-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Palm Beach County leaders announced Wednesday that all non-critical retail and commercial businesses, public and private golf courses, and county and municipal parks must close.

The order lays out which businesses are considered critical and non-critical during the current coronavirus pandemic.

READ THE ORDER HERE

The document lists six pages of businesses that cannot close to the public, including health care facilities, grocery stores, pharmacies, child care centers, and more.

However, the plan is leaving some confused.

Delray Beach attorney Amanda Anderson Bright with the Fenderson Law Firm said the order is broad and has several loopholes.

"It just creates confusion about what is actually going to be allowed," said Bright. "Looking even at the retail stores, there’s a clause that specifically states in there that groceries may remain open or anyone that sells retail goods, as well as groceries and non-grocery products. Even goes as far as saying sanitation items. So that means things like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods, while they’ve already voluntarily closed, they can make the argument to stay open because of this."

Bright also said Palm Beach County's order contradicts similar orders that local municipalities have put out.

The county’s verbiage describes businesses as "critical," while municipalities are using the terms "essential" vs. "non-essential" in their orders.

"The fact that they actually made a focus on calling them critical versus non-essential and essential, whereas municipalities are calling them essential, really is creating a lot of confusion between what’s superseding," said Bright.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus | We're Open South Florida

Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner said Wednesday that the executive order is, in effect, a shelter-in-place mandate with exceptions.

"If Palm Beach County continues to abide by and lead by example in the way that we self-isolate and social distance, we won't have to do that," Kerner said, referring to the possibility of a more extensive shelter-in-place order.

So what would be the difference?

"The practical effect, I don't think would be much different, except for it's the government saying, you cannot leave your house for essential reasons," Kerner said. "The end of this story depends on our personal responsibility and our personal accountability."

MAYOR TALKS ABOUT ORDER:

SOT FOR MICHELLE: Mayor Dave Kerner talks about shelter-in-place order

Anyone who violates the new executive order could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail, the mayor said.

On Wednesday, County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay posted on Facebook that she's requesting a stay-at-home order in Palm Beach County to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

McKinlay wrote, in part:

"I hate every second of this epidemic and I hate having to support efforts like a stay at home order or a curfew. But I want to save lives. The lives of our seniors. And our immune compromised. And our healthcare workers, first responders, etc...

I am one of 7 commissioners and under an emergency declaration, the final say is with the Mayor.

We have no such order at this time. I just wanted all of you to know I am supporting one."

Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Wednesday he has no plans to issue a sweeping stay-at-home order for the entire state of Florida, calling it "inappropriate."

However, the governor added that he supports local municipalities who want to enact their own shelter-in-place orders.

"You just gotta think it through," DeSantis said. "But I've supported the local things, and it's a more surgical approach."

RELATED: South Florida lawmakers ask Gov. DeSantis for statewide shutdown

According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 169 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County.

27 patients have been hospitalized in the county, and three have died.

For the latest information about coronavirus cases in Florida, click here.