The announcement of Gov. Ron DeSantis' plan to reopen the state amid the coronavirus pandemic has drawn both praise and criticism from a slew of representatives and local leaders across Florida.
Phase 1 of his plan begins Monday, with the main changes being restaurants and retail stores able to reopen at 25 percent of capacity and elective surgeries able to resume.
Bars, gyms and salons will remain closed for this phase. Additionally, long-term care facilities will remain closed to visitors.
"Today Florida will take a step -- small, deliberate, methodical and based on consultation with some of our greatest physicians-- toward a more hopeful future," DeSantis said during a Wednesday press conference. "We do have hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel."
Many in Tallahassee supported DeSantis' plan.
“The health and well-being of Florida’s residents continues to be our highest priority, but we also recognize that Florida’s economy has been negatively impacted as a result of this pandemic," Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said. "Today, under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, we are taking a strong step in the right direction towards prudently reopening our state. I’m grateful to be a part of such an incredible undertaking and look forward to seeing Floridians thrive once again.”
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, echoed these remarks.
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“The Safe, Smart, Step-By-Step Plan for Florida’s Recovery announced today by Governor DeSantis represents a fact-based, strategic and measured approach that responsibly balances the resilient spirit of hardworking Floridians across our state who are eager to return to work with sensible and science-based public health guidelines developed in conjunction with medical professionals," Galvano said. "While no function of government is more important than the safety of the people we serve, it is also imperative that we protect the rights of Floridians to exercise their liberties and earn a living.
"I was honored to serve on Governor DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force and appreciate the critical work the Governor and his team undertook to develop strategies that will help our fellow Floridians and our economy recover as quickly as possible, while maintaining a focus on public safety as our No. 1 priority,” he said.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said he has every expectation DeSantis will take a "thoughtful, metrics-based approach and that he looks forward to working with him to achieve those goals.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has presented our state with unprecedented challenges, but Floridians are a resilient people," Sprowls said. "Governor DeSantis understands that Floridians look outward, across the horizon, and toward the future. His plan to reopen Florida will allow us to once again move our state forward."
But not everyone was pleased with the announcement or how DeSantis has addressed the effects of the pandemic in the state.
"More than 1,000 Floridians have died in this pandemic, but you wouldn’t know it listening to Governor DeSantis’ indignant press conference today," Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said. "Just like Trump, DeSantis did not spend his time at the bully pulpit thanking frontline workers or consoling families who have lost loved ones, but deriding the media and ‘doom and gloom’ scientific models that showed a no-action scenario. Enough with the self-congratulatory media performances, where are the tests?”
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, shared her frustrations via Twitter.
Hey @GovRonDeSantis, does Phase 1 of re-opening Florida include fixing our state’s unemployment insurance program & getting people paid? Asking for a million of my new friends.
Ppl still died in FL & more will die from stress if we can’t get them paid. Floridians are still waiting for their benefits & many are being told to re-apply via a still-broken website & a call center that doesn’t actually answer the phone. Talk about both. We need answers.
Gwen Graham, a 2018 democratic gubernatorial candidate, also called out DeSantis via social media for not addressing the issues people are having with filing for unemployment.
.@GovRonDeSantis just rushed away from the podium. Back to the hell of the Governor’s Mansion. Not a single word on getting folks their deserved unemployment assistance. Not a single word. Mark my words, their plan is/was to wear Floridians down - then say,“Go back to your job.”
Locally, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he would allow restaurants and retail shops to open in the city.
"Related to restaurants in St. Petersburg, they may prepare to follow the state’s order permitting them to open at 25 percent occupancy indoors and with six foot spacing between tables outdoors beginning on May 4th, 2020," Kriseman said in a statement. "I want to be clear that the state's order does not require restaurants and retail establishments to open on Monday, it simply permits them to do so if they choose to do so. Retail establishments that were previously closed may also reopen on Monday at 25 percent occupancy. Our current reading of the recent order is that localities cannot expand the governor’s restrictions, only further restrict them, and I will not do that in this instance.
"I can assure all restaurateurs and business owners in St. Petersburg that they will have time to prepare if I were to further restrict a state order," he said. "It is important that our restaurants and retail establishments have clarity as soon as possible and that there is uniformity whenever possible."
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor took the opportunity to thank Hillsborough residents for following the directives and slowing the spread of the virus.
“I appreciate that Governor DeSantis appears to be taking a phased approach to reopening Florida starting May 4, and that he has recognized Tampa and Hillsborough County as places where distancing measures have been successful," Castor said. "Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Tampa and Hillsborough County residents, we have been able to flatten the curve and keep the number of cases far below where they would have been if we had not implemented our Safer at Home order. Moving forward, we will continue to focus on social distancing, face coverings, and personal responsibility as we reopen non-essential businesses.”
Pasco County Chairman Mike Moore said his county was ready and "in a strong position" to begin Phase 1.
"We're following a data-driven approach, and thanks to the efforts of everyone in Pasco, we're seeing encouraging downward trends in our local number of COVID-19 cases," Moore said. "A second drive-through testing site is now open in Pasco County, which will provide more important data to assist our decision-making. Please continue to follow social distancing guidelines. I know a lot of people in our community are suffering due to this pandemic, and I look forward to continue working with our community partners on economic recovery efforts."
It's unclear when the second phase of DeSantis' approach will take place.
"Each step will bring us closer to that light at the end of the tunnel," DeSantis said.