On Friday, September 25, Governor Ron DeSantis took a promising step in the direction of freedom by propelling Florida into Phase 3 of their Coronavirus reopening plan. Florida made national headlines earlier this summer by peaking in their cases and hospitalizations in July, which was nearly three months after the Northeast states, like New York, peaked.
DeSantis has received significant negative press for reopening Florida on May 4, and moving to Phase 2 on June 5 as cases continued to rise. The only industry that took a step backwards was bars/nightlife, which reclosed on June 26 and reopened on September 10.
DeSantis made the announcement from a press conference in St. Petersburg, taking many mayors by surprise. Effective immediately, DeSantis ordered all bars and restaurants to open at a minimum of 50% capacity, up to full capacity as local governments saw fit.
Additionally, all outstanding fines and penalties for those who did not wear masks have been suspended. Those who already paid their fines will not be reimbursed.
As DeSantis pointed out in his presentation, Florida’s resources are best used on those who are most vulnerable to the virus, which is the state’s elderly population. He held up a chart showing the CDC official survival rate by age group:
For those under 50 years of age, the seasonal flu is more dangerous to them than Covid. For those 50-69, Covid behaves similarly to a bad strain of the flu. But for those over 70 years of age, the loss is more significant than the flu.
DeSantis reminded everyone that in March, we were told “15 days to slow the spread,” which was followed by 30 more days. Florida followed those recommendations. Then, the recommendation was to wait for a vaccine. Now, there are calls to wait a full year after the release of an effective vaccine, before resuming normal operations. DeSantis calls these requests, “Not viable,” and “Not acceptable.”
In addition to moving firmly into Phase 3, DeSantis has promised to provide “business certainty” and affirmed that going forward, Florida will not be closing businesses in any sector. If anything, they would pull back on occupancy if they see a significant rise in cases.
Since hospitalizations peaked in July, Florida as a whole has seen a decrease of 76% in hospitalizations, 72% in ICU, and 81% in hospital admittance. This steady decline has occurred simultaneously to opening schools to in-person learning and the economy growing.
With the new age-specific strategy in place, DeSantis said the words that many Americans have been dying to hear: “Know your risk, and govern yourself accordingly.” At least one Governor in America is allowing their constituents the freedom to go about their lives as they see fit.
Per the original Phase 3 guidelines published by the state on April 29, theme parks may return to full capacity, and large sporting events can operate with a reduced capacity. Gyms and retail businesses have already been operating at full capacity.
Disney World issued a statement that they are still determining how to react to the Governor’s order: "We received the Governor’s executive order and are evaluating it to determine what it may mean for our business. We are not making any immediate changes. As a reminder, face coverings are still required at Walt Disney World Resort.”
DeSantis acknowledged that South Florida would likely follow a slower reopening than the rest of the state: “You’re probably going to see a different approach in Southern Florida.” South Florida accounts for roughly 42% of the state’s Covid cases.
Not everyone reacted to the news positively; Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner emphasized Friday that it was the governor’s decision to move all 67 counties into Phase 3 and that his county did not choose to do it on its own. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber was dissatisfied with the decision on masks, accusing DeSantis of following President Trump’s example as closely as he can.
The four major parts of the governor’s order are:
- It removes all remaining state-level restrictions on businesses, including on bars and restaurants, which were capped at 75% capacity in Phase 3 of DeSantis' original reopening plan.
- It provides a general right to work and to operate a business. Local governments can limit and regulate businesses but won’t be able to close businesses because of coronavirus concerns.
- Local governments won’t be able to prevent restaurants from operating at below 50% capacity. Under previous orders, local governments could go further than state-level restrictions. Also, cities and counties won’t be able to impose any restrictions without an economic and health justification.
- Cities and counties can’t collect on any outstanding fines they issued as part of their pandemic response. The order, though, doesn’t compel local governments to refund anyone who has already paid a fine.
DeSantis reminded everyone that whether the state is open or closed, “I think people should still understand that the virus, it doesn’t go away. Even if you have a vaccine it doesn’t go away.”
Now, at least, people can get back to work.