By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that reopening the state after coronavirus-caused shutdowns will be “very methodical” and “data-driven,” and some people might think it is too slow.
Appearing at Tampa General Hospital, DeSantis talked of regional reopenings as he tried to temper anticipation about “non-essential” businesses opening their doors again to customers.
“It’s not going to be something that a switch is going to be flipped,” DeSantis said of his month-long stay-at-home order that ends Thursday.
“This is uncharted territory. We use the data. We use the facts as best we can,” he continued. “But the fact is, nobody knows what this will do. So, you go slow, you measure, you go steady, and then you make the best decisions, uh, that you can.”
An outline on reopening is expected to be presented to his Re-Open Florida Task Force this week.
DeSantis reiterated on Monday that Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties may be even slower than the rest of the state in reopening, as Southeast Florida has been hit with the largest outbreaks.
I mean, we are deliberately going to be very methodical, slow and data-driven on this because I think that if people want to have confidence that things are going in a good direction, it gives us the ability to do things if we see something somewhere.
“This phase one is a baby step,” DeSantis said. “I mean, we are deliberately going to be very methodical, slow and data-driven on this because I think that if people want to have confidence that things are going in a good direction, it gives us the ability to do things if we see something somewhere.”
DeSantis’ office this weekend collected suggestions from the public and members of his task force, which is dominated by elected officials, leaders of lobbying groups, and leaders of large organizations including Disney World, Universal Orlando, Publix, Florida Power & Light, AT&T, Tampa General, Raymond James Financial Services and Lockheed Martin.
Last week, members of the task force discussed the need for enhanced cleaning, a continued use of personal protection equipment such as masks and gloves and maintaining physical distancing, all of which could initially limit crowds in restaurants and other businesses.
DeSantis’ appearance at Tampa General Hospital came after he held similar news conferences over the weekend at Cleveland Clinic in Broward County and Orlando Health. At each of the stops, he has discussed recovery and signaled that the state will end a ban on elective surgeries when an executive order expires May 8.
The state Department of Health on Monday reported 32,138 cases of COVID-19 in Florida, with 1,088 deaths tied to the disease, which is caused by the coronavirus.
The Monday totals represented increases of 610 new cases and 14 deaths from a Sunday count, with the additional deaths involving people who tested positive in Broward, Miami-Dade, Duval, Hernando, Leon, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas and Volusia counties.
Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris, a member of the executive committee of DeSantis’ task force, said the medical community has the capacity to handle future COVID-19 cases.
“As the economy starts to slowly, methodically and thoughtfully open up, if we do see a surge or a cluster here or there, this institution, and I know my sister institutions, BayCare and Advent and HCA and others, will be ready and prepared to handle anything that comes our way,” Couris said, referring to other big hospital systems.
Democrats, however, criticized DeSantis for following President Donald Trump’s “reactionary” approach to the pandemic in a conference call with reporters Monday.
“What we’ve seen as a trend throughout this crisis nationally is a focus on the needs of big business, and unfortunately, that also seems to have trickled down to our state, where there simply has not been a big enough focus on the people,” said state Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.