Florida should not reopen without more testing, some lawmakers urge DeSantis

A healthcare worker gather information from a person wishing to get a coronavirus test Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Sarasota, Fla. Florida has set up a state run COVID-19 testing site at the University Town Center mall in Sarasota. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Palm Beach County — the home of President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort — can start reopening its businesses next week, joining other parts of Florida that began allowing restaurants and retail shops to open their doors this week under certain limitations, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday.

Restaurants and shops in Palm Beach County can reopen provided they keep indoor capacity at 25% starting next Monday. The governor said he hopes two other South Florida counties that are still under restrictions to stop the spread of the new coronavirus — Broward and Miami-Dade — can start reopening businesses the following week.

“In order for Florida to come back, we need Palm Beach County in a leadership role," DeSantis said at a news conference in West Palm Beach.

DeSantis partially lifted his “safer at home” order Monday, allowing restaurants and retail shops to begin operating at 25% capacity around Florida. Excluded from the initial reopening plan were the three South Florida counties that have been the epicenter of the pandemic in the state.

But the governor said Palm Beach County had been trending in the right, downward direction in terms of residents testing positive for the virus.

“It won’t happen overnight but this community is eager to move forward,” said Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner.

With some of the nation's most expensive houses, Palm Beach County is home to Mar-a-Lago, which serves as Trump’s refuge from Washington. The president often spends his time there mixing work, business and pleasure in the company of dues-paying members. It has laid off 153 workers during the pandemic.

While Broward and Miami-Dade counties remain under restrictions, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Friday that some business in the county would be opening on May 18. He didn't specify which businesses but suggested the reopening could include restaurants.

Broward Mayor Dale V.C. Holness is hosting a teleconference with city officials on Monday to discuss reopening. In a survey completed by city leaders, most supported the opening of restaurants and retail businesses under the state's guidelines, as well as allowing elective surgeries.

DeSantis also gave the green light to reopen hair salons, barbershops and nail salons Monday under new safety guidelines for most of Florida. The order does not include Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The governor made the announcement on Twitter late Friday via a video message from J. Henry, who owns a barber shop in Orlando.

“We are ready to get back to work and make some money,” Henry said in the video, adding that salon employees would be wearings gloves and masks. “Safety is always first.”

No other details about the additional safety protocol were immediately released.

Earlier in the day, most of Florida’s Democratic congressional delegation urged DeSantis, a Republican, not to loosen restrictions meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus until he can put in place adequate testing, contact tracing and the ability to isolate sick residents.

The U.S. lawmakers said in a letter to the governor that Floridians would be at risk without those measures in place as businesses that have been closed because of the pandemic start to reopen.

“While we fully recognize the tremendous burden placed on the economy by stay-at-home orders and closed businesses, we urge you to prioritize the health and safety of Floridians above all else,” the letter said. “A rushed reopening may very well serve only to increase the human loss caused by an already historic public health crisis, as states moving forward with reopening are seeing increases in new COVID-19 cases.”

DeSantis defended his approach on Friday as “safe, smart.”

“We are being deliberate,” DeSantis said. “We are being methodical about this because we want to do this the right way.”

At a news conference in northeast Florida, DeSantis also announced that infected patients from long-term facilities who do not require hospitalization could be cared for at a skilled nursing facility in Jacksonville. He said that will help prevent infected elders from spreading the disease to others in their facility.

The governor also defended the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying state officials acted to stay ahead of infections by aggressively seeking to stem the spread of the virus across the state's elder care facilities.

According to records released by state officials, there have been more than 1,400 infected long-term care residents across 424 long-term care facilities as of May 1. More than 400 have died, according to those records.

“We acted decisively early on to protect long-term care facilities,” the governor said.

DeSantis said that included sending nearly 10 million masks, 1 million gloves and 500,000 face shields to long-term care facilities, as well as establishing what he called “strike teams” to do surveillance testing at the facilities. But the data released by state officials have come under scrutiny because some of the data do not square with other available information.

As of Friday evening, the state had recorded more than 39,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the number of deaths from the disease approaching 1,700 people.


Schneider reported from Orlando.


Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.