By Saraana Jamraj
One day after Florida’s deadliest day from COVID-19, Governor Ron DeSantis announced plans to reopen the state gradually — however, this will exclude Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach County for now.
On Wednesday, a day after he met with the president, DeSantis held a press conference to explain the next steps after Florida’s shelter-in-place order sets to expire on April 30.
DeSantis noted how difficult this time has been for millions of Floridians and promised a small, thoughtful, methodical step towards reopening, which will begin on Monday, May 4.
He chastised the media throughout the conference for several predictions about the worst-case scenario in Florida that did not come to fruition, including projected death tolls and comparisons to Italy and New York and shared that hospital, ventilator, and ICU capacity is still far from being used.
“The only thing we have to fear is letting fear overwhelm our sense of purpose and determination,” said DeSantis.
In addition to reopening parts of the economy, DeSantis also noted that the state would be expanding its testing, both in sites and capacity, by securing a mobile test lab that can conduct 3,500 tests per week, producing results in as little as 45 minutes.
These will be used in long-term care facilities, and as testing continues, on the homeless, homebound, and underserved populations.
Phase One begins after DeSantis said that the state received input from the Reopen Florida Task Force and produced recommendations. In it, schools continue distance learning, visitors to senior living facilities are prohibited, elective surgeries can resume, restaurants may offer outdoor seating with six feet between tables and indoor seating at 25 percent capacity, and retailers can operate at 25 percent capacity.
Bars, gyms, and personal services such as hairdressers and salons will remain closed.
The president’s guidelines, used by DeSantis, also include churches and movie theaters—DeSantis never closed churches, so that is unchanged. Still, he doesn’t believe it’s practical or prudent to open movie theaters at this time, and therefore, are currently excluded.
This phase comes with guidelines for vulnerable populations, including avoiding close contact with those outside the home, physical distance from others, avoiding socializing with groups of ten or more and recommending face masks in face-to-face interactions, especially in the workforce.
While the tri-county area is currently excluded from this initial reopening phase, these are likely the same guidelines that will apply when these counties enter Phase One.
DeSantis said the decision to move forward will be fact-based and hopes it will take weeks between phases, rather than months.
“I want to get Southeast Florida on the board,” said DeSantis. “I think we’ll be able to get them there relatively soon.”
The decision to exclude the tri-county area of South Florida was based on the concentration of cases on those areas, and in conjunction with the local governments of those counties, whom DeSantis praised for their efforts thus far.
“We’ll be smart, we’ll be safe, we’ll do it step by step,” said DeSantis.
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- Selene Raj is a writer and a Florida International University graduate. Born in Trinidad and raised in America, she completed her Master's in Mass Communications in 2020, and has been living in Coral Springs since 2004. She is passionate about the communities she lives and works in and loves reporting and sharing stories that are as complex and meaningful as the people who live in them.