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DeSantis loosens restrictions on restaurants, retail stores

By Staff | Apr 29, 2020

After more than a month of steps to restrict movements and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that he will be opening up restaurants and retail stores with capacity restrictions beginning May 4. Elective surgeries will be allowed again as well.

DeSantis announced that restaurants can open with outdoor seating and social distancing, and indoors seating at 25% capacity. Retail stores can open with 25% capacity indoors.

The new order will not extend to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County which have been hardest hit by the coronavirus.

DeSantis also announced Wednesday that there will be an increase in testing, including a site at the Twins’ CenturyLink Sports Complex parking lot in Fort Myers.

“What is our biggest obstacle? Fear,” DeSantis said. “Fear is our enemy.”

DeSantis pointed to sudden dropoffs of people seeking medical care for heart problems and stroke symptoms due to fear of the coronavirus at hospials. The governor said that could lead to more deaths.

“The only thing we have to fear is letting fear overwhelm our sense of purpose and determination,” DeSantis said.

In explaining his announcement, DeSantis said “the unprecedented national shutdown has thrown the lives of millions of Americans into economic and social turmoil.”

Small businesses representing the life’s work of Floridians have been lost overnight for some, he said.

Protracted unemployment is dangerous to health, social costs and economic activity, DeSantis said.

School plays, activities, graduations and senior proms have been canceled, depriving children of “some of the best times of their lives,” DeSantis said. “These moments have been forever lost.”

Visitors to nursing homes will still not be allowed. Bans on bars, movie theaters and salons will continue. Long-distance learning will continue.

DeSantis has argued that Florida has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic better than many other states and that the health impact on the state’s population has been less severe than had been predicted or expected. DeSantis pointed to charts showing that death rates and hospitalizations per 100,000 people were far less than the hardest-hit states in the country.

As of Wednesday morning, there have been 1,218 deaths across Florida attributed to COVID-19 since the pandemic began here in March. There have been 33,193 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19. There have been 38 deaths in Lee County, with the most recent occurring April 23 involving an 89-year-old woman, which was confirmed April 29. Fort Myers Beach has had seven confirmed positive cases. There have been 1,003 confirmed positive cases in Lee County.

“We do have hope, DeSantis said. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“We are going to protect people’s civil liberties,” DeSantis said while criticizing “wide-ranging and punitive orders” in some communities.

DeSantis said there will be increased testing though he said the state can’t force anybody to be tested. DeSantis said he will also be recommending face masks be used in face-to-face business interactions, though it will not be mandated.

In explaining his decision to loosen up restrictions on Floridians, DeSantis noted that there are more hospital beds available today than on March 1. He also said there are more than 6,000 ventilators available. He said there are 379 people statewide on ventilators due to COVID-19.

“That worst-case scenario thinking, that has not proven to be true,” DeSantis said.

More announcements will be made in the coming weeks based on an improvement in data. “We are trying to build a foundation for the future,” DeSantis said.

The governor’s announcement was the culmination of daily meetings of a task force he assembled to include busness, health and political leaders to determine how best to start loosening restrictions. DeSantis also met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday.

“We will get Florida back on its feet by using an approach that is safe,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis has not yet lifted a ban on short-term vacation rentals of less than 30 days.