TALLAHASSEE, Fla — How do you go about restarting a state?
That’s a conundrum Florida’s elected leaders are trying to untangle as the state’s 21 million people search for any sign of when life might begin returning to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. DeSantis announced last week the creation of a Re-Open Florida Task Force. It’s a group of politicians, medical professionals, business leaders and education experts whose goal is to strike a delicate balance between getting Floridians back to work and keeping them healthy.
“I’ll be seeking advice and ideas on pretty much everything under the sun,” DeSantis said.
Like President Donald Trump's plan, DeSantis says he wants a three-phase approach to get the state back up and running. But, critics worry that doing so prematurely could make reopening take even longer and put more lives at risk.
"We need to get the economy back in a safe way," DeSantis said during a statewide teleconference. “How do you run a business where you are minimizing close contact of employees and employees to customers? How do you do it in a way that the environment is less conducive to transmitting this thing? I think there’s a whole lot of ideas out there.”
State Democrats say they’re highly critical of any plan that doesn’t widely expand testing first.
“Governor DeSantis cannot be weak. He has to be a leader. And that means he has to lay out very strong procedures,” U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-27) said.
“We risk a second, more deadly wave right here in our state,” state Sen. Lori Berman (D-West Palm Beach) said.
Some believe DeSantis has already made the political decision to align himself -- and Florida’s fate -- with those who want to open the economy sooner.
“When you see politicians putting together a task force like this, usually it means they just making cover for themselves,” Dr. David Ozonoff, an epidemiologist at Boston University, said. “So, they don’t have to take responsibility for the entire decision, and they can say it was made by this task force."
Ozonoff says until there’s a therapy or a vaccine, social distancing is the only tool in the box. Anything else, he says, comes with risk.
Members of the task force are scheduled to meet twice Tuesday.
Those listening on the conference call were not immediately told who makes up the Re-Open Florida Task Force. The governor's office sent a list of task force members three hours after the conference call began.
Here's who's on the Re-Open Florida Task Force:
- Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez
- Jimmy Patronis, Chief Financial Officer
- Ashley Moody, Attorney General
- Bill Galvano, Senate President
- Speaker Jose Oliva, Florida House of Representatives
- Sen. Wilton Simpson, Incoming Senate President
- Rep. Chris Sprowls, Incoming House Speaker
- Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education
- Jamal Sowell, President & CEO, Enterprise Florida, Inc.
- Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Miami-Dade County
- Mayor Dale Holness, Broward County
- Mayor David Kerner, Palm Beach County
- John Couris, President & CEO, Tampa General Hospital
- Josh D’Amaro, President, Walt Disney World Resort
- Todd Jones, CEO, Publix Super Markets
- Syd Kitson, Chairman, Board of Governors for the State University System
- Paul Reilly, Chairman & CEO, Raymond James Financial
- Alex Sanchez, President & CEO, Florida Bankers Association
- Eric Silagy, President & CEO, Florida Power & Light Company
- John Sprouls, CEO, Universal Orlando Resort, Executive Vice President, Universal Parks & Resorts
- Patrick Sunderlin, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Lockheed Martin Corporation
- Joe York, President, AT&T Florida and Caribbean
Notably absent from the task force is state Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried. She sent the following statement following the governor's conference call:
“This is sadly more of the same politics over state from the Governor. I was not asked to serve alongside my fellow Cabinet members on the task force, which has no voice on its membership representing Florida’s $137 billion agriculture industry. That is deeply concerning given the impacts of COVID-19 on Florida’s second largest industry, and given the progress my team has made working with federal, state, local, and retail partners to reduce negative impacts to Florida agriculture. It’s equally concerning that the Governor neglected to mention agriculture on the initial call – I hope he will join my commitment to supporting our farmers and feeding our families.”
The White House last week released its proposal for a phased reopening of the country after the coronavirus pandemic, but President Donald Trump said the decisions are ultimately the governors’ to make.
- Phase one keeps social distancing guidelines in place and discourages non-essential travel.
- Phase two keeps gatherings to less than 50 people and allows for all travel to resume.
- Phase three would be when life basically returns to normal for most Americans.
Stay in the know with the latest updates on coronavirus in Florida here.
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- 16 people killed in deadliest shooting in Canadian history, police say
- Jobless Floridians plan to protest unemployment benefits problems
- Florida students won't go back to school this spring, Gov. DeSantis announces
- Man who hoarded $10K worth of toilet paper, hand sanitizer can't get a refund
- Seminole nursing home reports new coronavirus test results following evacuation
- Hotlines, websites offer the latest on COVID-19
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