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DeSantis, a Republican, on Monday announced a “Re-Open Florida Task Force” as a stay-at-home order due to the novel coronavirus is set to expire. The task force’s members include executives at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios – two of the state’s largest employers – as well as other corporate executives and elected leaders.
DeSantis’s move comes as President Donald Trump last week unveiled broad guidelines for states to follow as they begin reopening. The plan leaves specifics to governors, who first must show that cases of coronavirus are decreasing. Governors in states including Georgia, Tennessee and Texas have announced plans in recent days to ease stay-at-home orders and gradually reopen businesses.
DeSantis said the state was “chugging along very well” economically before the pandemic.
“You look at places like Miami, you couldn’t even drive a block without seeing a crane somewhere,” he said Monday on a conference call announcing the task force. “We were really on fire in many ways until we hit this roadblock.”
DeSantis said Florida can “bounce back in a very thoughtful, safe, and efficient way,” and having fast, reliable coronavirus tests available is the key to doing so.
He floated one idea Monday: perform rapid coronavirus tests on guests as they check into hotels. But he stressed that the tests must be reliable.
“The last thing we want is false negatives,” DeSantis said. The governor said that in discussing a possible testing plan with hotel owners, their “biggest fear” is that someone’s test presents a false negative and that person sickens many others.
“That’s obviously not good for health, and also not good for business confidence,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said Florida is due to get 100,000 additional rapid coronavirus tests this week. A vocal Trump supporter, DeSantis frequently mentions his access to the president – including a discussion the two men had about testing Monday – and Trump’s help in getting Florida what it needs to combat covid-19. DeSantis said Trump floated the possibility of sending DeSantis a rapid testing machine, which states have been desperately trying to procure.
“In fact he volunteered to send one to the governor’s office here, so anyone who comes into our office is going to need to get one. We’ll see what happens with that,” DeSantis said.
People who meet with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are tested for coronavirus.
Governors of both parties have said the federal government has not provided them with enough tests. Trump said Sunday that the government is increasing efforts to secure vital supplies for coronavirus testing.
DeSantis was heavily criticized for refusing to order a statewide stay-at-home order after coronavirus cases started to climb in South Florida in March. Spring breakers flocked to beaches around the state throughout the month, many of them flaunting the governor’s recommendation that they gather in only small groups. DeSantis issued an executive order in late March requiring travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to self-isolate for 14 days upon arriving in the state.
DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 1. It urges residents to avoid travel and practice social distancing until April 30.
Last week, DeSantis eased up on the order and gave permission for some beaches in north Florida to reopen. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, also a Republican, banned certain items from beaches, including towels and chairs, and limited hours to deter groups of people from gathering. Photos of people on the beach generated vitriol on social media, but Curry called the restricted openings “the beginnings of the pathway back to normal life.”
There have been 27,059 positive cases of coronavirus in the state, according to the Florida Department of Health, 4,000 hospitalizations due to the virus and 823 deaths.
DeSantis’s task force is heavy on business leaders and also includes all but one member of his cabinet – Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat.
“This is sadly more of the same politics over state from the governor,” Fried said in a statement. “I was not asked to serve alongside my fellow cabinet members on the task force, which has no voice on its membership representing Florida’s $137 billion agriculture industry.”
Much of the task force’s first day at work was taken up by the conference call – and most of that was taken up by representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber President and chief executive Mark Wilson said the task force recommendations will have an impact beyond Florida.
“The whole world is watching us,” Wilson said. “They’re looking for your recommendations, and my hope is that other states and other nations will look to . . . Florida’s restart as not only a national model, but as a global model.”