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Task Force Recommendations Would Ramp Up Economy

photo illustration of store fronts in a strip plaza.
iStockphoto.com

As Gov. Ron DeSantis begins to slowly reopen the state, recommendations issued by a task force offer a glimpse into what Florida could look like as it emerges from the coronavirus shutdown.

The final report from DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force, released on Thursday, includes plans for theme parks, restaurants, nightclubs, hair salons, casinos, vacation rentals and many other businesses that are crucial to keeping Florida’s economy afloat.

The task force recommendations offer a blueprint for reopening the state economy, but DeSantis is not bound to follow them.

On Wednesday, for example, the governor said restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity starting Monday. But the report shows the task force suggested allowing food establishments, shops, hair salons and barber shops to operate at 50 percent capacity, guidelines the governor did not go along with in his first phase of reopening.

Touting a “small, deliberate, methodical” approach to reopening the state, DeSantis said his decisions to reopen will be based on data and facts. But he hopes the next step will take place in weeks --- not months. 

“If we start seeing cases where more and more people are going into the hospital and we think that it might be a surge that they can’t handle, that is something that we are going to look at and that is obviously something that we are going to take into account,” the governor said during a news conference Wednesday.

But DeSantis maintained there is no timetable for when the second phase of reopening will happen. 

The task force recommended the next phase --- done in consultation with public health experts --- should include allowing people to resume non-essential travel and permitting restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys, auditoriums and casinos to operate at 75 percent capacity, while keeping large sporting-event venues at 50 percent capacity.

Theme parks --- a critical part of  Florida’s tourism industry --- “may consider re-opening with capacity limits, strict social distancing and proper measures to clean and disinfect,” under the phase-two recommendations from the task force, whose members included executives from Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort. 

DeSantis has prevented people from renting vacation properties because of concerns visitors would bring the coronavirus into the state. The task force would still impose restrictions on vacation rentals during the second phase. For example, hosts would only be allowed to rent to Florida residents and would be banned from accepting reservations from international travelers or from visitors who live in cities that are known hotspots for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Hotels, motels, resorts and time-share projects would not be subject to the same restrictions as vacation rentals.

By the time the third phase comes around, the task force recommended local governments should return to in-person meetings after being allowed to meet in conference calls and video conferences to prevent spread of the virus. Also in the third phase, the task force recommended allowing bars, gyms, restaurants and nightclubs to operate at full capacity, theme parks to return to normal operations with “limited social distancing protocols” and vulnerable people to be allowed to “resume public interactions while practicing social distancing.”

Restaurants should also throw away paper menus after customers touch them and nail salons should not allow magazines or newspapers in service areas in phase three, the task force recommended.

Schools, state colleges and universities shut down their campuses in March and are providing online education for the rest of this academic year. While the task force did not set a plan for schools or universities in the second and third phases of the recovery, it said the education system should develop plans to resume “on-campus learning, full-time” next academic school year.