Florida governor issues statewide stay-at-home order
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order Wednesday as federal and local pressure mounted on him to abandon the county-by-county approach he had implemented to combat the coronavirus pandemic, a position he had defended for weeks.
DeSantis told reporters he decided to issue the order after consulting with President Donald Trump and White House advisers, who have said Americans need to stay home through April. His order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday and will last at least 30 days.
The governor said it made sense to expand stay-home measures statewide now “even though there are a lot of places that have very low infection rates.” His move came the same day two other Republican governors in the South, Brian Kemp in Georgia and Tate Reeves of Mississippi, also issued stay-home orders after repeatedly refusing to do so.
“This is what we are going to be fighting for a month,” DeSantis said. “There is not going to be any kind of return to normalcy. People thought Easter. ... That is not going to happen.”
The order makes exceptions for buying food, medicine and gas, visiting doctors, outdoor exercise and commuting to jobs deemed essential. All businesses not considered essential must close, but can let employees work from home where feasible.
It also permits travel to religious services, although it was unclear whether such services would be subject to previous statewide orders prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people. On Monday, police arrested a pastor in Tampa who violated the order by holding services for hundreds.
The state’s confirmed cases were approaching 8,000, with 100 deaths and nearly 1,000 people hospitalized, and an outbreak model cited at the White House shows exponential growth in coming weeks. More than 30 other states issued broad stay-at-home orders a week or more ago.
On Tuesday, Florida’s Democratic congressional delegation blasted DeSantis for failing to impose a statewide lockdown, saying the virus doesn’t respect county lines. State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, said she had pushed for a statewide order for two weeks “to flatten the curve and save lives.”
“I said then I would stand with the Governor when he issued the order, and I do so now. Thank you, Governor, for making the right call,” she said in a statement.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce said it backs the governor’s decision as long as essential business is not impeded.
‘While safety is the top priority, we also believe that it is important for essential workers to be able to get crops to the grocery store, ensure that our first responders’ vehicles are maintained and ready to move and that we can get front line health care workers the safety equipment that they desperately need,” spokeswoman Edie Ousley said.
DeSantis conceded that the order’s success will mostly depend on the goodwill of residents as police won’t in most cases know by sight if a person’s reason for being out falls under an exemption. Violating a quarantine order in Florida can result in a 60-day jail sentence.
“I see some of these stories across the country ... where someone steps out and someone tries to get them arrested. Look, at some point you do need to just exercise good judgment. The government can’t ham-fist everyone into their bedroom,” he said.
DeSantis had been defending his county-by-county approach almost daily for the past two weeks as other governors in similarly heavily populated states including California, New York and Illinois, issued statewide lockdown orders.
The governor had said a statewide order wouldn’t be fair to small counties with no or few confirmed infections and to the workers who would lose jobs. Instead, he issued a stay-at-home order Monday for hard-hit Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties and the Florida Keys. Last week he also ordered anyone arriving from the New York area and Louisiana to self-quarantine for two weeks. He also issued some statewide measures including closing bars and gyms and limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery.
Counties in the Tampa Bay area and central Florida issued their own lockdown orders, and Jacksonville announced Wednesday it would join them on Friday.
The highly contagious virus that causes COVID-19 generally brings on mild or no symptoms, but it can cause serious illness, especially among older people.
A University of Washington mode l is projecting that Florida could see a rapid increase in deaths and hospitalizations, with 100 people dying daily by mid-April and more than 175 by May 1, when the number nears its peak. It predicts that 10,000 people will need hospital care by mid-month and 20,000 on May 1. The model predicts that more than 6,500 Floridians will die from the virus by June 1, among more than 90,000 deaths nationally.
Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale. __