Florida’s phase one reopening lifts stay-at-home order, reopens businesses in ‘safe, smart steps’

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

By John Haughey
The Center Square
April 30, 2020

(The Center Square) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday he will lift his stay-at-home order Monday, allowing retailers and restaurants to reopen in limited capacities while movie theaters, gyms, bars and “face-to-face personal service” providers, such as barbers and nail salons, must remain closed.

Phase one of DeSantis’ three-phase “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step” plan excludes south Florida’s three counties – Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach – where about 60 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases have been reported.

The governor said the state’s “very slow and methodical approach” is designed to convince the public it is safe to be in public.

Under phase one, schools will remain in distance-learning mode, with campuses closed, and visits at nursing homes and long-term care centers prohibited.

“We can re-evaluate that as we have more tests,” DeSantis said of the visitation restriction. “We’re looking to relax that. Shutting down visitation, it’s tough. You have people there who have no had contact with their families” for nearly two months.

Hospitals can resume elective surgeries statewide but must “maintain surge capacity” to handle any potential spikes in COVID-19 cases, he said.

Large venues will remain shuttered, and gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited.

Restaurants with outdoor seating can reopen as long as 6 feet between tables is maintained, DeSantis said, and inside seating is limited to 25 percent capacity.

“We’ll start with 25 percent capacity and see how it goes,” he said.

Retailers also must limit patrons in stores to 25 percent capacity.

DeSantis “declined to go for movie theaters now. I think prudence dictates” they remain closed.

“There is no change in (restrictions) in bars, gyms, and personal services,” he said. “I’m going to see what other states are doing. I want people to get back into gyms and (for barbers, salon, bars), the same. A lot are small business folks. There may be ways you can do it. For now, we are not going to include that.”

DeSantis continued to “urge those 65 and up and those with underlying conditions to stay home as much as you can. The most important social distancing we can do is distancing the vulnerable population from those who are not.”

The governor said he built the phase one plan after input from physicians, public health officials and his Re-Open Florida Task Force, which met in four industry groups last week to offer recommendations.

Starting Monday, DeSantis said the state will conduct 30,000 to 40,000 COVID-19 tests a day.

“You may see total number go up; out of 40,000, you may see 2,000,” DeSantis said, but it would be incorrect to “write cases are spiking.”

The governor said his plan largely follows President Donald Trump administration’s Opening Up America Again plan, but rather than launch phase one after 14 consecutive days of declining new COVID-19 cases, his is based on “positivity” percentage of tests.

DeSantis has espoused a percentage-based approach, noting with the state committed to increasing testing, the number of positive cases will concurrently increase.

The state’s Department of Health (DOH) reported Wednesday that 33,193 people in the state had tested COVID-19 positive, with 5,419 hospitalized and 1,218 dead from the disease.

As of Wednesday afternoon, DOH reported 375,300 had been tested statewide – an increase of 56,473 in the five days since a single-day high of 21,298 people were tested April 23.

“As Florida tests more and more, we will find new cases,” DeSantis said, noting the average “positivity rate” over the past two weeks is 4 percent to 6 percent.

DeSantis said his office will produce the plan with conditions necessary for phase two and phase three for public review by Thursday.

“Safe, smart steps. These steps will be deliberate. It will not be like turning on a switch,” he said. “We need to focus on facts not fear.”

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