TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asserted on Sunday that parts of the state are now “on the other side” of the coronavirus outbreak, and said he would soon announce whether he would lift edicts that shuttered much of the state’s economy because of the pandemic.
In a news briefing at an Orlando medical center, the governor again noted the “hysteria” in the early weeks of the outbreak has not materialized in Florida, despite dire predictions that speculated many more deaths than the state has recorded so far.
As of Sunday, the state had more than 31,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,070 deaths.
With his safer-at-home order set to expire Thursday, the governor said he'd be taking key actions in the coming days as he reviews recommendations from a task force he convened to guide him in his decision-making. DeSantis said that reopening the state would be done methodically to prevent a resurgence of the outbreak.
In recent weeks, the governor has tried to boost public confidence in his handling of the crisis, and to assure a restless public the state might soon be able to reopen under the right circumstances.
During his weekend briefings, the governor did not devote much to time to discussing the work of the task force, which convened through telephone conferences last week. The panel was due to issue recommendations possibly over the weekend. If it reached a set of recommendations, it was unclear when such a document would be made public.
In making his decision to reopen the state, DeSantis said he would be hewing closely to White House guidance, which advocates a multi-phase approach. The criteria includes downward trends in infections and a diminished risk of a resurgence.
“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 said Sunday.
DeSantis said people should be reassured knowing infections have not risen as predicted and hospitals have comfortably managed the caseload.
The governor mentioned central Florida in particular, which includes cities like Orlando and its world-known amusement parks, as a region that is now emerging “on the other side” of the virus outbreak.
DeSantis said long-term facilities have been a priority in trying to head off further infections.
State officials said 366 such facilities have had confirmed cases of COVID-19, accounting for more than 2,900 infections among residents and staff — resulting in more than 300 deaths.
Since the beginning of the crisis, he said, the Florida Division of Emergency Management has distributed nearly 7 million masks, 1 million gloves and 500,000 face shields to long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
“Florida is Ground Zero for nursing homes. We’re God’s waiting room,” DeSantis said.
But he again pushed back at critics who said he was slow to move on putting social-distancing restrictions in place.
“Florida has performed better than anyone predicted," the governor said. “People should be comforted in knowing that all those predictions of hundreds of thousands of people hospitalized were not accurate, and it has just not been the case so that’s a good thing."
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and even death.