TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that most of Florida will enter what he called “phase one” of the reopening process on May 4 as the state continues to fight the spread of coronavirus.
Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties will not open on this date due to a higher incidence of COVID-19 infections in the area, DeSantis said.
“These counties have seen the lion’s share of the state’s epidemic, but they are trending in a positive direction,” DeSantis said, adding he believes those counties could move to phase one “very soon.”
The governor said Florida would reopen in three phases in-line with the guidelines released by the White House under President Trump’s reopening America plan.
Here’s what changes and doesn’t change for Florida on May 4:
- Schools continue distance learning
- Visits to senior living facilities are prohibited
- Elective surgeries can resume
- Sports arenas and movie theaters will remain closed
- Restaurants may offer outdoor seating with six feet of space between tables and indoor seating at 25% capacity
- Retail stores can operate at 25% of indoor capacity
- No changes for bars, gyms and personal services such as hair dressers and barbers
- Vulnerable individuals should avoid close contact with people outside the home
Phase one maintains current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including vulnerable individuals continuing social distancing while in public, avoiding groups of 10 or more and using face masks in public when you can’t maintain six feet away from others.
“Our plan from the beginning to fight COVID-19 is going to continue. Nothing’s going to change about that. We are going to continue to protect the vulnerable,” DeSantis said. “We are going to continue to increase testing ... we’ll continue to promote various forms of social distancing.”
The governor said when phase two and phase three begin will depend on how well the first stage goes.
“Each phase we’re thinking about weeks, not thinking about months,” DeSantis said.
State officials will continue to monitor health care resources including hospital bed capacity and personal protection equipment supplies.
“We also need to make sure our health care system is ready, make sure we have adequate resources and beds and the staff is protected,” DeSantis said.
The governor said he could see fans attend major sporting events in Florida by June or July. Churches were never ordered to close under the governor’s executive order and will remain open.
During his presentation, DeSantis did not address when Floridians could expect to see theme parks or major attractions reopen or speak to Florida’s troubled unemployment system. The governor took a few questions from reporters before leaving the room.
“We obviously need an economic recovery,” the governor said, touching briefly on the financial fallout.
At the time of the governor’s announcement Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health reported a total of 33,193 cases of coronavirus, with more than 1,218 fatalities as a result of the disease.
Just hours before the governor’s announcement, Lake County reported one of the only first responders in Central Florida to have died from COVID-19. Clermont Police officer Conrad Buckley died early Tuesday as a result of the respiratory illness.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Florida on March 1.
DeSantis met with President Donald Trump Tuesday where reopening plans were briefly discussed, but specifics for the plan were not given. Every governor in all 50 states would need to adhere to a set of guidelines put in place by the president when tailoring reopening measures to their respective state.
Under Trump’s reopening America plan, phase one would include allowing restaurants, churches and even sporting venues to operate as long as they adhere to strict social distancing guidelines. Phase two would see the opening of schools and some loosening of restrictions. Phase three is what many have dubbed “the new normal” and would mean most establishments would be operating at full swing again while keeping in line with limited protocols.
DeSantis placed Florida under a mandatory stay-at-home on April 1, becoming one of the last few governors in the U.S. to issue the order amid the coronavirus pandemic. That order became enforceable at 12:01 a.m. on April 3 and was set to end April 30.
Under DeSantis’ order, businesses that provided daily necessities, including grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, gas stations, pet supply stores, laundromats, hardware stores and others, were allowed to remain open.
Food-related businesses were directed to close their dining rooms, and were only allowed to deliver food and provide pickup orders.
Bars and nightclubs remained closed. All major theme parks, including Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando and Legoland previously announced they would remain closed.
Many Florida counties closed public beaches to deter crowds and prevent large social gatherings. Flagler County beaches closed March 22 after a local order, but reopened all beaches with the requirement of social-distancing on Wednesday.
DeSantis activated the Florida National Guard in March to help with the state’s coronavirus response, including operating large-scale testing sites.
The order was additionally enforced by state and local law enforcement.
A copy of the governors initial stay-at-home order can be found below:
While the order was intended to keep Floridians safe from a novel disease, it also effectively put thousands out of work.
As businesses remained shuttered, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity struggled to process the influx of claims for unemployment benefits.
As of Wednesday, the DEO reported 67,4005 claims for unemployment had been processed, or 80% of all unique claims submitted. The same day, the DEO reported 404,317 claimants had been paid, or 48% of all claims submitted.
Total claims for unemployment benefits in the state have surpassed two million.
The DEO told News 6 last week that contractors and self-employed workers would not need to reapply through the Florida system to receive unemployment payments. However, on Tuesday agency officials said that anyone who was declared ineligible who applied on or before April 4 will need to reapply because of Florida law and the start of a new quarter.
This re-application actually applies to all workers who applied before April 5, including those who file W-2 and 1099 tax forms, not just those who only qualify for federal benefits, due to a Florida state law that requires unemployed individuals to re-apply at the start of a new quarter. The first quarter ended March 31.
Counties throughout Central Florida have established task forces to develop plans to reopen the economies in their communities.
In Orange County, a task force continues to meet and create mandates for the “new normal” for businesses, working with the delicate balance of protecting lives while protecting livelihoods.
Osceola County leaders announced last week they had established a back-to-work committee that would function in a “think-tank” type capacity and follow all the guidelines set by both DeSantis and Trump in determining how to safely and effectively reopen the county’s economy.
In response to the demand to reopen the local economy, Seminole County also established a task force to better direct and inform leaders on how to open businesses and other public areas when it is safe and healthy to do so.