The Center Square – Phase one of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step” reopening plan goes into effect Monday and, as the governor had cautioned, it reflects a “very slow and methodical approach” in a gradual “data-driven” relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.
DeSantis did not elaborate on what conditions needed to be met to move onto phase two, nor did he describe what the next step would look like or provide any distinct timeline for implementing the next step.
“My hope would be, each phase, we’re thinking about weeks, we’re not thinking about months,” he said Wednesday. “We’re making progress, but it’s going to be data driven.”
DeSantis is basing his plan largely on recommendations from the Re-Open Florida Task Force, public health officials and guidelines from President Donald Trump administration’s Opening Up America Again plan.
In phase one, social distancing standards remain in effect, nursing home visits still are not allowed, gatherings of 10 or more are prohibited, large venues are padlocked, school campuses are closed and bars, gyms, movie theaters and “face-to-face personal service” providers, such as barbers and nail salons, remain shuttered.
Hospitals statewide can resume elective procedures, restaurants with outdoor seating can reopen – with inside seating limited to 25 percent capacity – and retailers must limit patrons in stores to 25 percent capacity.
City and county governments can determine whether libraries and other municipal amenities can reopen, but only at 25 percent capacity. Local governments already were permitted to reopen parks, golf courses, beaches and marinas under social distancing protocols.
South Florida’s three urban counties – Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach – remain under DeSantis’ safer-at-home order.
State parks remain closed, although the phase one order said the state’s Department of Environmental Protection will post a reopening plan in the coming days.
Florida’s reopening, however, will vary in one key metric from federal guidelines. Rather than gauging progress by the declining number of cases, Florida will use sustained declines in the percentage of positive cases from tests as its metric.
The distinction will encourage the state to increase testing for the virus. DeSantis said by next week, he wants between 30,000-40,000 tests daily. Obviously, he said, the more tests, the more positive results.
Over the past week, the governor said, between 4 percent to 6 percent of tests statewide are producing positive results. Peak “positivity” was early April, when about 13 percent were positive. He did not say what decline in “positivity” is necessary to proceed to phase two.
While the metric and implementation varies from federal guidelines, DeSantis’ phase two is likely to set forth similar relaxations outlined in the Opening Up America Again plan.
• All “vulnerable individuals” should continue to shelter in place and precautions to isolate the elderly and those with underlying conditions should remain in place.
• When in public, social distancing remains in place, but gatherings can increase from 10 to 50 people in places where social distancing is practical.
• Nonessential travel can resume.
• Businesses should encourage telework, if feasible, and require common areas in worksites where people are likely to congregate and interact be off-limits or closely monitored to ensure social distancing protocols are enforced.
• School and youth activities, such as summer camps, can reopen.
• Visitation to nursing homes and hospitals should be prohibited, although DeSantis said Florida will seek a way to safely allow visitors as soon as possible.
• Large venues, such as sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship, can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols.
• Gyms can open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
• Bars may operate with diminished standing-room occupancy.