April 28, 2020
by Jim Turner, NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE --- Appearing Tuesday with President Donald Trump in the White House Oval Office, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will announce a plan Wednesday for the initial phase of Florida’s gradual reopening from the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, meanwhile, suggested Florida could be “cutting off” travel from Brazil. DeSantis replied “not necessarily” about Florida imposing a travel ban from the South American country, which has seen a spike in cases of COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused the coronavirus.
But DeSantis said airlines should be required to test passengers before they board international flights to keep people from bringing new cases to Florida.
“Maybe some of these airliners, it should be on them to check before they're getting on and coming to this country,” DeSantis said. “I mean, you've seen what happened with the China flight restrictions that kept a lot of people from seeding the West Coast.”
DeSantis and Trump, whose political partnership remains vital for the president’s reelection efforts this year in Florida, also agreed all airlines should follow Jet Blue, which next Monday will start requiring passengers to wear face masks or other protective facial coverings to try to assure travelers that flying is safe.
Trump on Tuesday praised DeSantis for doing a “spectacular job in Florida,” while the president has clashed with other governors, even criticizing Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for rushing a reopening.
DeSantis was equally as gracious, saying Florida and the White House have worked well in coordinating testing and protecting nursing home residents.
“That was really kind of state-conceived and executed, but with great federal support it’s made a difference,” DeSantis told Trump.
DeSantis touted the state’s testing for the coronavirus and said Florida’s hospital occupancy and fatality rates have been below expert predictions.
He also said he will use a report based on comments from his Re-Open Florida Task Force, which met last week, to roll out recommendations for reviving the economy after coronavirus-caused shutdowns.
“For Florida, going from where we are now to phase one is not a very big leap,” DeSantis said, reiterating comments from the past few days. “I think that will be a small step for us, but we're going to approach it in a very measured, thoughtful and data-driven way. And I think that’s what most of the folks throughout the state are looking for.”
DeSantis issued a 30-day stay-at-home order that expires Thursday, but he hasn’t given a hard date on when “non-essential” businesses can start to reopen and workers can return to their jobs.
He noted that with the closure of theme parks and other major businesses, the state has been fortunate to have “billions of dollars in reserve.”
“Even with that, you are facing a hit,” DeSantis acknowledged, before Trump chimed in that, “The fourth quarter (of the year) is going to be really strong, and I think next year is going to be a tremendous year.”
Asked about the impact of border closings, particularly on travel by Canadians into Florida, DeSantis said that will require rebuilding confidence in traveling.
“It's going to be done with an eye to making sure that we're not pretending that this virus just doesn't exist,” DeSantis said. “I mean, we have to make safety a priority.”
The Florida Democratic Party criticized DeSantis for traveling to the White House for “a victory tour with Donald Trump.”
“Apparently Trump and DeSantis find it appropriate to slap each other on the back while Floridians struggle to stay safe during this pandemic and navigate a broken unemployment system,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a prepared statement. “We need leadership, and we needed it months ago when Trump was first warned about this pandemic.”
The Florida Department of Health reported Tuesday that 32,846 people had tested positive for COVID-19, up 708 from Monday. Also, it reported 83 new deaths, bringing the total to 1,171.
As of Tuesday morning, the state Department of Economic Opportunity had received 1.94 million unemployment claims since March 15, with 824,412 considered “unique,” as some people have filed duplicate claims.
Of the unique claims, the state had processed 664,158, or 80.6 percent, and made weekly payments of up to $275 to 392,051 people, or 47.6 percent. About 37 percent of the processed applicants had been deemed ineligible for unemployment compensation.
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 Hospital, 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.
On Monday, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who submitted her own recommendations on reopening the state as she was not part of DeSantis’ task force, urged the governor to keep the reopening slow.
“People in the state of Florida are scared. They are scared about opening up too fast,” Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, said. “In order for us to be able to open up, and really have an economic boost in our state, our citizens need to know that they are safe and that they have some type of reliance and belief in their leadership. Us not coming together makes them question what is really happening behind closed doors.”
--- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.