DeSantis: Florida’s ‘slow and steady’ reopening to unfold in ‘baby steps’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a COVID-19 news conference Monday, April 27, 2020, at the Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Fla.Chris O'MearaviaAP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a COVID-19 news conference Monday, April 27, 2020, at the Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Fla.Chris O'MearaviaAP

The Center Square – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ safer-at-home order expires Thursday, and the Re-Open Florida Task Force has submitted proposals on how nonessential businesses can reopen. 

But the governor said Monday that Floridians should expect “baby steps” rather than dramatic changes in COVID-19 restrictions.

“This is going to be slow and steady wins the race,” DeSantis said at Tampa Bay General Hospital. “This is unchartered territory. We use the data and the facts as best we can.”

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 That data, he said, indicates Florida is “flattening the curve.” The state’s Department of Health (DOH) reported Monday afternoon that 32,290 people in the state had tested COVID-19 positive, including 1,088 dead, and 5,010 hospitalizations.

 After new cases spiked by 1,251 on Wednesday – the second-highest single day total – numbers have trended downward, with 535 new diagnoses and 17 deaths reported Sunday.

 Under President Donald Trump’s Opening Up America Again plan, which Florida is using as a model, phase one in lifting restrictions would require 14 consecutive days of declining new COVID-19 cases.

 DeSantis said numbers may not be an appropriate metric in Florida because the state rapidly has expanded testing. In some places now and in others soon, anyone can get tested.

 As of Monday afternoon, DOH reported 358,127 people had been tested statewide – an increase of 39,300 in three days since a single-day high of 21,298 people were tested Thursday.

 The more testing, the higher the number of positives, DeSantis said, suggesting percentage may be a better metric. Overall, about 9 percent of tests are returning positive, but 6 percent to 7 percent may be more accurate if those who’ve tested positive repeatedly are excluded from the count.

 Over the weekend, DeSantis received reopening recommendations from the 22-member Re-Open Florida Task Force after a week of teleconferences by four industry subgroups. On Saturday, the governor’s office provided a portal for the public to submit ideas and questions about reopening.

 The governor did not indicate what type of activities and businesses could see relaxations Friday.

 “Obviously, because we’re coming up at the end of the month, and we’re going to do it,” he said. “Even if you could flip the switch, if people don’t have confidence, then the economy is not just going to take off. It’s not the way it works.”

 DeSantis is considering a regional approach. South Florida’s three urban counties – Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach – constitute about 60 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases.

 “It’s really a different ballgame when you compare southeast Florida” to the rest of the state, he said. “Pretty much the rest of the state has really handled this very well. There has never been even close to a stress on capacity of health care resources.”

 The state police chiefs association was among groups during the Re-Open Florida Task Force teleconferences that expressed concern about a regional reopening, predicting people from more restricted areas would migrate to less restrictive areas and, potentially, spread the disease and overwhelm law enforcement.

 Tampa General Hospital President and CEO Dr. John Couris, the only health expert on the task force’s executive committee, praised DeSantis for his leadership, including the governor’s unannounced plan to allow hospitals and clinics to resume elective surgeries.

“We’re ready to open,” Couris said. “And I’m not only speaking for Tampa General Hospital, but probably speaking for every hospital across the state.”

Tampa General Vice President Dr. Charles Lockwood said the strategy is to transition from pandemic mitigation to epidemic shutdown. 

“There’ll be outbreaks and there’ll be flares,” he said, “but it’ll allow us to return to a much more normal state.”

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