Reopening Florida

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DeSantis Begins Phase One

Governor Ron DeSantis announced Phase One of his plan to reopen Florida, dubbed, “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery” on Wednesday afternoon, April 29 in Tallahassee. Just one day after he flew to Washington D.C. to confer with President Donald Trump, DeSantis announced a plan that generally followed the President’s guidelines for reopening states, but had some major deviations. He also referenced the suggestions he received from his four Re-Open Florida committees, but did not follow all their recommendations.

Restaurants will be allowed to open for outdoor dining provided patrons are 6’ apart, and indoor dining up to 25% of the restaurant’s capacity. Elective surgeries may resume, provided hospitals can maintain surge capacity, and retail stores may open with 25% capacity.

Bars, movie theaters, gyms, barbers, spas, hair salons and other personal services are to remain closed for now, though DeSantis made it clear they can still sell products.

Florida’s Phase One calls for vulnerable individuals to avoid close contact with people outside the home. Everyone should maximize physical distance from others in public. Socializing in groups of over 10 people where physical distancing is difficult should be avoided. Face masks are recommended for everyone in face-to-face interactions and where they can’t social distance.

DeSantis offered a short summary of the difficulty of the past two months for over 21 million Floridians and promised a methodical, data-driven reopening plan that he compared to a dimmer switch. “We’re going to protect the vulnerable and promote testing. We’ll focus on facts, not fear.”

He then spent about ten minutes emphasizing how some of the early predictions for COVID-19 in the state were inaccurate, though he didn’t mention the role his stay-at-home order and widespread social distancing might have played in the curve flattening Florida has seen.

New Lee County Testing Sites

Lynn Hall Park beach was still busy in the late afternoon on the first day the Lee County Beach Park was open.

Part of the reopening plan is increased testing with more walk-up sites, including one opening next week in Immokalee, and more drive-thru sites, including one planned next week at CenturyLink Sports Center off Six Mile Cypress Parkway in south Fort Myers. He stated that with the increased testing, anyone over age 18 can be tested if they have symptoms, as can healthcare workers and those without symptoms if they think they’ve been exposed. DeSantis said the state will receive a mobile lab unit which will allow testing and results within minutes and be able to handle 3,500 tests per week.

With more testing, the Governor warned, there will likely be more positive results. He explained that he is watching the positivity rate, or the number of positive results compared to the number of tests done. Florida is at 9% now. The other metric DeSantis says he’ll watch is the hospitalization rate.

The state has been doing contact tracing all along, DeSantis said, and will be ramping that up also using over 500 Florida Department of Health epidemiologists and public health students from a dozen universities.

Weeks, not Months

DeSantis described his plan as baby steps. “My hope is that each phase is weeks, not months. I deliberately have erred on the side of taking measured steps” he said as he emphasized his consultations with state medical experts. He described the next steps for reopening Florida would be based on maintaining the health benchmarks of the Safe. Smart. Step by Step Plan, maintaining hospital capacity and monitoring the COVID-19 positivity rate.

Executive Orders

Governor DeSantis and Dr. Antonucci of Lee Health urge Floridians to continue to follow social distancing guidelines by staying at least 6 feet apart and avoiding groups of more than 10 people. Photos by M. Layfield.

On Wednesday, DeSantis issued two more Executive Orders. Number 20-111 extends Executive Order 20-87 which barred vacation rentals of up to a month until May 4, “at which time the Order will be extended.” Order 20-111 also extends his Safer at Home order, Number 91, to 12:01am on May 4, 2020.

Executive Order 20-112 initiates Phase 1: Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery. It includes the measures mentioned above and states that vacation rentals remain prohibited, as per Order 20-87. It also allows museums and libraries to open at no more than 25% of their capacity, provided that interactive areas, such as child play areas, remain closed.

Lee Health Update

Dr. Laurence Antonucci, Lee Health President and CEO, praised the effort of Floridians in helping to avoid the worst case COVID-19 scenario in Lee County. “Getting to this point was made possible because of the community-wide effort in fighting coronavirus. Our collective physical distancing, masking and hygiene habits are the number one reason we avoided the exponential growth that we feared would happen in Southwest Florida.”

He encouraged continued vigilance as the area begins to open up. “The opening of beaches, parks and businesses does not mean the threat is over, and when going out in public we must continue to practice the same preventative measures that have kept our community as safe as possible. We must continue to physically distance ourselves from others, wear masks in public and practice good hand hygiene habits. We do not know how long these precautions will remain necessary, but it will still be months, and maybe even more than a year, until we can think about socializing in public to the extent we did three months ago.

“The fight is not over, but we are winning,” he said, “and I look forward toward slowly enabling our community to enjoy everything Southwest Florida has to offer.”

Lee Health has 81 COVID-19 patients isolated in their hospitals as of Wednesday, April 29. A total of 197 have been discharged. 201 Lee Health employees are quarantined at home and 29 employees are currently positive for the virus. Current bed capacity is at 61% with 9% of those beds being used for COVID-19 patients.

Lee County has seen 1,003 COVID-19 positive cases, with 41 deaths as of Wednesday, April 29, 2020. The State of Florida has a total of 33.193 cases and 1,218 deaths. Daily updates of Florida and Lee County COVID-19 cases can be seen at bit.ly/DOHdashboard