Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled a plan Wednesday to lift the state’s stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus crisis that he called “safe, smart and step by step.”
The plan will go into effect Monday in every county except Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties, where most of the state’s COVID-19 cases have been reported, DeSantis said.
But before DeSantis released any details, he took a swipe at the “doom and gloom” media and critics who faulted him for the state’s slow response to the unfolding crisis.
“A lot has been done to promote fear,” DeSantis said. “We haven’t seen an explosion of new cases.”
That having been said, 83 people died in Florida from the coronavirus Tuesday, the biggest spike in daily deaths since the pandemic started.
The restrictions, which have been in place since early April — and which were set to expire Friday — will be lifted “in a very measured, thoughtful and data-driven way,” DeSantis promised earlier.
Under phase one, retail stores and restaurants can reopen, but only at 25 percent capacity. Eateries will be allowed to seat people outside, but they will have to maintain 6 feet of social distancing. And elective surgical procedures will be allowed to resume.
But schools, bars, gyms, hair salons, nursing home and long-term care facilities will remain closed until further notice.
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People should continue avoiding large gatherings of more than 10 people and don masks whenever possible, the governor said.
“We’re not going to fine people if they’re not doing it,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis’ announcement came as 350 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed Wednesday in Florida, along with 47 new deaths, bringing the state’s virus-related death toll to 1,218. More than 5,400 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the state Health Department.
And it came after DeSantis touched base with President Donald Trump during an Oval Office meeting.
Wary Florida officials warned that they would hit the brakes if DeSantis moved too fast to reopen the state.
Daytona Beach City Commission member Rob Gilliland said that if DeSantis “comes out with something we don’t think is restrictive enough,” the city could mandate precautions to ensure that residents are protected.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Florida officials have stopped releasing the list of coronavirus deaths being compiled by county medical examiners, “which has at times shown a higher death toll than the state’s published count.”
DeSantis, a Republican and staunch Trump supporter, had been widely criticized for refusing to quickly clear the beaches of visitors and issue stay-at-home orders.
DeSantis also undermined the Hillsborough County sheriff’s efforts to stop a renegade mega-church pastor from holding Sunday services and endangering thousands of worshippers.
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Rodney Howard-Browne wound up abandoning his plans to reopen The River at Tampa Bay Church on Easter after he was dropped by his insurance company.
Currently, the DeSantis administration is taking flak for the state’s balky Unemployment Assistance program, which critics like Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber say “was essentially set up, unfortunately, to be stingy, to be cumbersome and to not really give out employment checks.”
“The state of Florida has been really unforgivable when it comes to unemployment benefits,” Gelber said Wednesday on MSNBC. “Our city is, you know, organizing food lines and such, like a lot of cities across America. It’s heartbreaking to see the number of people online because they can’t afford a meal or need food for their family.”