Gov. DeSantis to issue order limiting Florida to essential services only for 30 days

Tribune Content Agency

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After weeks of resisting a statewide stay-home order, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Wednesday that he would sign an executive order limiting all activity in Florida to essential services only for the next 30 days to try to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The order, which will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, is intended to follow the direction of the White House, which Tuesday revised its guidelines and extended its social-distancing recommendations until the end of April.

It will also come one month after Florida had its first two cases of COVID-19 confirmed March 2: a 63-year-old Manatee County man who had not traveled recently and a 29-year-old Hillsborough County woman who had recently traveled to Italy.

“We’re going to be in this for another 30 days,” the governor said at a news conference crowded with reporters in his small Capitol office.

“That’s just the reality that we find ourselves in. And so given those circumstances, given the unique situation in Florida, I’m going to be doing an executive order today, directing all Floridians to limit movements and personal interactions outside the home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.”

He said the order will provide a list of essential services that follows closely the order issued by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on March 26.

Florida now will become the 34th state to ask most Floridians to essentially stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the coronavirus.

DeSantis did not arrive at the decision easily.

As recently as Tuesday, he insisted a statewide stay-home order was unnecessary because the bulk of the cases, and the testing, has been in South Florida. Public health experts, however, have warned that the state’s failure to implement stronger limitations on person-to-person contact increased the possibility that Florida would continue to see cases increase for months.

He dismissed the value of a statewide stay-at-home order, suggesting that on a trip to South Florida on Monday he had seen beaches that had been ordered closed with people gathering on them anyway.

“I was flying out of Miami yesterday,” he said, “looking at beaches with signs saying they were closed. Were there people out there? Damn right there were. It’s really up to the locals to deal with them one way or the other.”

DeSantis said Wednesday he consulted with the White House and President Donald Trump, who he said “agreed with the approach of focusing on the hot spot.” That had been the governor’s preference as he faced pressure from the state’s leading businesses to allow non-essential businesses to operate to aid the economy.

But, the governor conceded, the president “understood that this is another 30-day situation and, and you got to just do what makes the most sense.”

For nearly two weeks, the governor endured blistering criticism from public health experts, state and local officials, and political opponents as he insisted it was not good for Florida to get ahead of the guidelines as posted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DeSantis followed a pattern of first allowing local mayors and city officials to make the tough calls about closing beaches, bars and businesses to contain the spread of the virus, before taking more dramatic action. In other states, governors were acting more aggressively, going beyond the CDC guidelines and issuing stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of the virus. The president, who initially suggested the “prevention was worse than the disease,” seemed to agree.

But on Tuesday evening, Trump’s top public health experts, Andrew Fauci and Deborah Birx, predicted that if Americans continue to implement “full mitigation” measures for another 30 days it will reduce the projected number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 to 100,000 to 240,000.

They also commended the states of California and Washington, where extreme social-distancing measures were put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 early.

So when the president his coronavirus task force ordered the nation to practice social distancing, work and school from home, avoid discretionary travel, stay away from nursing homes and limit social gatherings to 10 people for another 30 days, DeSantis had little choice but to follow.

The previous guidance from the White House regarding an easing back into normal life by Easter, April 12, “isn’t going to happen,” DeSantis said.

The governor made his comments at a news conference where reporters were not allowed to sit six feet apart, despite requests on March 20 from the state’s largest newspapers asking him to accommodate the social distancing practices the CDC recommended.


(Miami Herald staff writer Samantha J. Gross contributed to this report.)


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