PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – The pressure is on as the “Re-Open Florida” task force meets to deliver a report Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked to have Friday.
Four working groups, and four phone meetings, laying the groundwork for how to open the state for business and stop the economic hemorrhaging brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
“If someone happens to think something is not essential, I can tell you the person in that industry whose job is in jeopardy sure thinks it’s essential to them,” DeSantis said.
As businesses restart, the task force wants masks worn in public areas. They’re also considering asking workers to take their own temperatures before coming in.
So far there has been no hard date for a reopening decided.
The task force is considering everything from healthcare to tourism to business to education. And the discussion goes beyond just opening businesses and relaxing stay-at-home orders.
Mary Mayhew, the head of Florida’s healthcare administration, discussed how doctors and hospitals need to resume elective procedures to stay afloat after COVID-19 costs spiraled past revenues.
“They have seen significant cost increases related to the purchase of the masks, the gowns, the gloves, the lab testing equipment. Increased staffing, overtime and benefits,” Mayhew said. “And certainly that has been a significant financial pressure on hospitals.”
Mike Joyner, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, shared how the shutdown has decimated the state’s $160 billion agriculture industry.
“Approximately 80 percent of Florida’s tomatoes go into the food service industry,” Joyner said. “What we saw as we were going into this shelter-in-place is business grind to a complete and sudden halt with the shutdown of restaurants, cruise lines, hotels, schools, those kind of things.”
Their discussions Thursday come as a half-million Floridians applied for unemployment benefits last week, pushing the state’s claims well over 1 million since businesses started closing last month.
DeSantis said restrictions need to be lifted safely and methodically.
"We’ve still got a lot of work to go, but I’d much rather be in our shoes than in some of these other states’ shoes where they have ... five, 10, 20 times the number of fatalities per 100 people than the state of Florida has,” he said.
He continued: “The good news is I think everyone is very keen on this right now. I think they want to be able to get to a point where obviously it is in fact safe, but just as importantly, people have confidence that it’s safe. Because even if it is safe, if they don’t have the confidence that it’s safe, people aren’t going to want to go to a store or go to some of these things like we used to do.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that three out of four Floridians don’t want the state to reopen until public health officials deem it safe to do so.
Many healthcare experts say we need more widespread testing before they could say that it’s safe to open.
DeSantis said he believes fast and efficient coronavirus testing is key to the economy bouncing back.
The governor issued Florida’s stay-at-home order on April 1. That order is set to expire April 30.