Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mandated a 30-day stay-at-home order for the state Wednesday, requiring that its nearly 21 million residents stay indoors unless they are pursuing essential services or activities. His executive order will take effect midnight Thursday.
The Republican governor took heavy criticism from state lawmakers for refusing to enact such an order until this week, even as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases have nearly surpassed 7,000 in the state, including at least 85 deaths as of Tuesday.
The daily reports from the Florida Department of Health drive the fact home: The number of people testing positive for covid-19 has accelerated rapidly, nearly doubling in the past four days, with 3,274 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 6,741 as of Tuesday evening.
The state reported 857 people hospitalized and 85 deaths as of Tuesday, with the heaviest concentration of infection in Broward and Miami-Dade counties along the southeast coast and pockets in other areas like Tampa and Orange County, home of Walt Disney World. On Tuesday alone, 14 deaths were reported in the state, according to the Miami Herald.
Indeed, on the covid-19 nationwide map maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of Florida just turned dark brown, the color signifying more than 5,000 cases. It’s now in the company of California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey as of Monday, the cutoff of CDC map data with Louisiana having crossed the 5,000 threshold Tuesday.
Of those states, however, Florida had been the only one not under a statewide “stay-at-home” order. DeSantis has until now urged people in Southeast Florida to remain at home and said this week he would issue a “safer at home” order codifying that advice.
Even Tuesday, DeSantis said at a news conference that he had no plans to issue a statewide order because the White House had not told him to do so.
“I’m in contact” with the White House coronavirus task force, he said at a news conference, “and I’ve said, ‘Are you recommending this?’ The task force has not recommended that to me,” he added. “If any of those task force folks tell me that we should do X, Y or Z, of course, we’re going to consider it.”
For this, he won praise from President Donald Trump who called him “a great governor who knows exactly what he’s doing.”
DeSantis made his comment at a news conference where reporters were allowed to sit six feet apart for the first time. Previously, he had briefed reporters crammed into a small room despite requests on March 20 from the state’s largest newspapers.
Mary Ellen Klas, Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, was barred from a DeSantis news conference last week after requesting social distancing.
DeSantis’s approach to the pandemic has attracted criticism since at least mid-March, when he said it was up to local governments, rather than him, to mandate closing of beaches filled with spring breakers.
DeSantis again pleaded powerlessness at his news conference and wondered how useful orders would be anyway. For example, he said he had closed some beaches at the request of local officials and people were gathering on them anyway.
“I was flying out of Miami yesterday,” he said, “looking at beaches with signs saying they were closed.
“Were there people out there? Damn right there were,” he continued. “It’s really up to the locals to deal with them one way or the other.
” . . . It’s just unfortunate,” he said, “but no matter what you do you’re going to have a class of folks who are going to do whatever the hell they want to.”
He also suggested Floridians didn’t need public health mandates because most were doing the right thing without them, in part because there just wasn’t much to do. “Everything’s pretty much closed,” he said. “It’s not like there’s anything to do.”
DeSantis attracted national attention when he set up checkpoints to screen travelers from Louisiana and New York for the infection, saying any he found would be ordered into quarantine for 14 days.
Similar to other state executive orders, the mandate will shutter businesses like clothing stores but will allow supermarkets, clinics, banks, pharmacies and other daily necessities to remain open. People are allowed to exercise outside while staying six-feet apart, though groups of 10 or more are impermissible, the order said.
Visiting family or friends to care for them is also allowed, the order said. So is attending religious services, although places of worship have become virus outbreak flash points.