TALLAHASSEE -- Starting Monday, May 4, Florida will take, “small, deliberate, methodical steps” to reopen the state’s businesses in much of the state. In an April 29 press conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis outlined the first of a three phase plan to reopen some businesses that have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What changes Monday:
• Medical facilities can resume elective surgeries.
• Restaurants can allow outdoor seating with six feet of space between tables and indoor seating at 25% capacity.
• Retail businesses that were not on the “essential business” list may reopen while maintaining the social distancing recommendations (25 percent of capacity).
• All businesses initially on the “essential” list can remain open.
What doesn’t change:
• Bars remain closed.
• Personal services such as barbers, hair and nail salons remain closed with the exception that they may continue to sell products as a retail store.
• Schools stay on distance learning.
• Longterm care facilities will continue to ban visitors.
• Movie theaters remain closed.
• Gyms remain closed.
• Those over the age of 65 and/or have underlying health issues that make them more vulnerable to the disease are encouraged to stay home as much as possible and avoid close contact the those outside their homes.
• Everyone should maintain six feet of social distancing from others in public.'
• Gatherings of more than 10 people are still restricted.
• Everyone should wear cloth face masks in public in any locations where it is not possible to maintain six feet of social distance at all times. This includes businesses and stores.
The biggest obstacle is fear, said the governor. He said some people have been afraid to go to the hospital for needed care for other health issues because they are afraid of the corona virus.
Reopening the state will not be like turning a switch, he said. It will be done in small, methodical stages.
“We obviously need an economic recovery,” he said. “We also are going to protect people’s civil liberties and constitutional rights.
“We will continue to promote various forms of social distancing,” he continued. “We want to prevent the introduction of the virus from outside the state.” He said he talked to the president about testing people on international flights before they get on the plane.
“We were told over and over again that Florida was going to be just like New York when it came to the corona virus,” said Gov. DeSantis. “Saying Florida was going to be like New York was wrong.”
He said the president and his team have agreed Florida is ready to go to phase one. He said the decision to go to phase one is based on the trends for new cases and the percentage of positive tests compared to the total number of people tested.
As more people are tested, the number of positive cases will grow. “We know there’s a lot of asymptomatic people out there,” he said.
The availability of hospital beds is also a factor to consider. “We have more hospital beds available today than we did on March 1,” he continued.
He said more of the new cases have been younger people and the hospitalization rate has gone down.
“We are going to treat southeast Florida differently,” he said. Phase one will not include Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“Southeast Florida just had a lot of people from New York City coming down,” he said. “They didn’t know they were bringing the virus.” He said those visitors “seeded” Southeast Florida with the corona virus.
“Part of our strategy in phase one is to expand testing,” he said. The drive-thru sites will continue to test in the more populated areas. Walk up testing sites are planned for areas such as Immokalee in Collier County.
“We have been able to procure an RV that has a mobile lab inside of it,” he said. The mobile lab, which can go where it is most needed, will produce test results in an hour and will be able to do 3,500 tests a week.
He said county health departments along with epidemiologists will continue to work on tracing the contacts of those who test positive.
Palm Beach County
On Wednesday, April 29, Palm Beach County reopened limited recreational areas – with continuing adherence to CDC guidelines. This includes county parks, public and private golf courses, pools, marinas and boat ramps with limitations.
All public county and municipal parks, and natural areas, with the exception of beach parks, in Palm Beach County are open with restrictions. Phil Foster Park and Dubois Park are considered beach parks and will remain closed as long as public beaches are closed. The boat ramp at Phil Foster will be open, but not the beach.
Community pools can reopen provided that CDC Guidelines, including all social distancing guidelines, are adhered to. In addition, the following restrictions apply:
• Pool capacity shall be limited to ensure that social distancing in accordance with CDC Guidelines is maintained at all times.
• Locker room and shower facilities shall remain closed. Restrooms shall be cleaned and disinfected regularly throughout the day. Soap and water or hand sanitizer and/or disinfectant wipes shall be provided in each restroom.
• Pool deck seating or lounging shall be restricted to ensure social distancing in accordance with CDC Guidelines.
• One or more facility staff or management must be present at each facility location to monitor and ensure compliance with the restrictions within this order. It will be acceptable for staff or management to delegate monitoring and compliance responsibilities to board members and community volunteers if they believe the pool can be operated safely and in compliance with the county’s regulations. If these accommodations are unsuccessful, the pool should be closed until alternate monitoring arrangements are put in place.
Palm Beach County has extended the Declaration of Continuing State of Emergency until May 1.
Okeechobee County never closed the boat ramps, but requires the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) rules be followed. FWC requires those on land to stay six feet apart and for boats to stay 50 feet apart while in the water. Okeechobee County Commissioners will discuss COVID-19 issues at their regularly scheduled meeting on April 30. The meeting, which will start at 9 a.m. will be held in the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse. The meeting will be live online at www.co.okeechobee.fl.us.