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Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that he will ease open the door to Florida’s restaurants, retail and recreation, but as part of the state’s coronavirus hot spot, Palm Beach County and its neighbors to the south continue to be under broader restrictions.
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In a nearly hour-long press conference, DeSantis laid out the data points that drove his decision to enter “Phase 1” of a reopening of the state, gleefully noting that dire predictions of death tolls and hospital crises did not materialize in the Sunshine State.
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While South Florida is not in the mix to regain some economic freedoms, DeSantis said he didn’t think the region would trail for much longer given the downward trends in new cases and rates of those testing positive.
“If we’re making progress, we need to put people back to work,” He said. “I deliberately erred on the side of taking measured steps, maybe even baby steps to a brighter day.
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We need to focus on facts and not fear.”
At least one Palm Beach County commissioner was grieved that the county’s path to opening is tied to the others.
“I think it’s very short-sighted to lump us in with Miami-Dade and Broward. We are more like the rest of the state than we are like them,” Commissioner Hal Valeche said.
While DeSantis found downward curves on a number of fronts, the reach of coronavirus continued to grow within the state Wednesday, adding 347 people to the list of those diagnosed and 47 to those who have died.
The nation’s health authorities have said states’ plans to ease restrictions on business and recreation should hinge on a steady downward trend in new cases, the rate of positive tests, and a steady availability of ventilators and beds in intensive care units.
DeSantis argued Wednesday, the majority of Florida meets that demand.
“We have more beds available today than March 1,” DeSantis said. The state has been spared “an explosion of cases” and hospitalization rates are down, he said.
In this beginning phase, some things won’t change. Students across the state will continue to learn from a seat at home, not at school. Guests are still prohibited from visiting nursing homes.
Movie theaters, bars and gyms will remain closed, but restaurants can open, filling only 25 percent of their indoor seating and permitted outdoor seating if tables are adequately separated.
Retail shops can operate at 25 percent of indoor capacity and do curbside transactions.
A haircut for anyone, including, he complained, himself, may be a long time coming. Hair salons will remain shuttered.
Life may be restricted, but DeSantis reveled in what Florida is not experiencing.
“Everyone in the media said we were going to be like New York or Italy,” he said, scoffing at what he called doomsday reports. “That hasn’t happened.”
Florida’s 33,193 cases of COVID-19 do indeed pale in comparison to New York’s more than 305,000 or Italy’s 203,000.
That said, several thousand people each week are newly diagnosed in Florida, a state that has tested 375,000 people, ranking 22nd in the nation in testing per capita.
In the first two weeks of April, when the state peaked in diagnoses, about 32 of every 100,000 people were confirmed to have the disease. That rate fell to roughly 28 people per capita the following week and now sits closer to an average of about 22 per 100,000 people in the last seven days.
DeSantis expects to beef up testing in the weeks to come with more walk-up opportunities and even a mobile testing lab that can determine who is sick in under an hour — a task that would be particularly handy in monitoring staff and patients in long-term health care facilities.
The state could see 30,000 to 40,000 tests a day administered beginning next week, he said.