Task Force to Re-open Florida launches public comment portal, invites public to chime in

The portal is open to all Floridians wishing to submit public feedback

FILE - In this March 17, 2020 file photo, people wait in line for help with unemployment benefits at the One-Stop Career Center in Las Vegas. About half of all working Americans say they or a member of their household have lost some kind of income due to the coronavirus pandemic, with low-income Americans and those without college degrees especially likely to have lost a job. That's according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP Photo/John Locher) (John Locher, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s in no rush to reopen Florida. The task force has been in discussions about reopening some parts of the economy, but it wants feedback from residents before it makes that final recommendation to the governor.

The Task Force to Re-open Florida announced Saturday that it has launched a public comment submission portal. The portal is open to all Floridians wishing to submit public feedback.

[RELATED: Interactive map shows Florida coronavirus cases]

According to a news release, public feedback will be a critical component of the task force’s final report to DeSantis.

“All interested Floridians are encouraged to submit their ideas regarding the safe re-opening of Florida’s economy,” officials said.

Anyone wishing to submit a comment may enter feedback on any topic related to the re-opening of Florida’s economy.

Some topics include the impacts on small businesses, health care, education, tourism, agriculture, retail, recreation/sports and construction.

Governor DeSantis's task force wants Floridians' feedback about re-opening Florida's economy.

The governor and his task force are attempting to strike a balance between public health and the reviving the state's damaged economy. The public portal is sure to draw opinions that will further stoke the debate about when might be the right time to reopen the state.

DeSantis hoped to have the task force’s recommendations Friday, but some of the subcommittees indicated they will need to submit theirs over the weekend.

During a press conference Saturday, DeSantis announced some ideas of what phase one of reopening the state would look like.

“We talked about elective surgeries, obviously we’re moving in that direction,” DeSantis said. “They talk about keeping the bars closed -- we’re keeping the bars closed. There’s not a huge leap for phase one, but we’re going to be consulting and doing it based on data and trends.”

He also spoke about the possibility of reopening dine-in restaurants to ease some of the crowds at grocery stores.

“When you have restrictions, that can produce density in certain places,” DeSantis said. “For example, we’ve seen people piling into Costco. If you’re looking at something like a restaurant, if you had limited seating outdoors, would that reduce some of the density from the supermarkets? It may or may not. These are things we’re thinking about.”

But not everyone is convinced it’s the right time, even with social distancing

“It’s fine if restaurants stick to the 6 feet apart, but how do they do that? Maybe only allowing a few people at a time. I know I’d like to go out,” Connie said.

Others said opening up parts of the economy is what Floridians need right now.

Brian Morini said opening up parts of the economy is what Floridians need right now.

“I think it’s going to be good for morale and the economy to start moving in that direction,” Morini said. “Certainly with restrictions, because we don’t want this to backfire.”

As far as getting back to work, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic voiced their recommendations to the governor.

“Whatever can be done remotely in the same way that it would be done in a close proximity probably should stay that way, at least for the near future,” Dr. Carla McWilliams said. “For those returning to the workforce, that social distancing rules still need to apply, greater than 6 feet. We need to be wearing masks as we go back to work. If you develop symptoms of illness, it is our public duty to protect the integrity and health of those people around us.”

School and business closures, as well as the governor's “safer-at-home” edicts, have strained the economy and left hundreds of thousands of people without paychecks.

It has also led to countless frustrations among the newly jobless, who continued to have difficulty getting unemployment benefits -- with much of the difficulty tied to the state’s glitch-prone unemployment system. That frustration mounted when state officials said its site would not be available for the weekend to people checking on the status of their claims.

As of Saturday, the state’s online unemployment dashboard reported that more than 785,000 Floridians had submitted claims since mid-March for unemployment benefits, with less than half processed. Of those, about 166,000 have gotten paid.

Florida has struggled more than other states to clear its backlog of claims.

The economy is the central focus of the governor's task force.

Florida’s stay-at-home order expires April 30, unless it’s extended. During a Friday afternoon news conference, DeSantis said he had not yet decided when to reopen the state. He said his decision would be contingent on the availability of testing.

Small business owners, especially those in smaller counties that have not seen the surge of coronavirus cases experienced in hard-hit South Florida, have been antsy to reopen for business. But some cautioned that lifting restrictions too early could be dangerous to public health and prolong the crisis.

Click here to access the online Task Force to Re-Open Florida Public Comment Submission form.

To keep up with the latest news on the pandemic, subscribe to News 6′s coronavirus newsletter or go to ClickOrlando.com/coronavirus.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

About the Authors:

Crystal Moyer is a multimedia journalist who joined the News 6 team in February 2020. Crystal comes to Central Florida from WKMG’s sister station, WJXT in Jacksonville, where she worked as a traffic anchor and MMJ.