TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As Florida continues to battle a growing caseload of coronavirus cases, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday asked anyone 65 years old and above or with preexisting conditions to stay home for the next 14 days for their own safety.
“Folks who are 65-plus are the ones that have the best chance to suffer a negative outcome, and that’s disproportionately so when you talk about fatalities.” DeSantis said. “We want to make sure those folks are protected.”
DeSantis said state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees will issue a health advisory about people 65 and older and people with serious “underlying medical conditions” staying in their homes. The serious conditions include such things as chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, severe obesity and people in cancer treatment.
“You should assume anyone you come in contact with may be infected. Obviously, the best way to avoid contact is to stay at home as much as possible," DeSantis said.
DeSantis still doesn’t think that a broad shutdown like other states have implemented to control the spread of the coronavirus is appropriate for Florida because there are pockets in the state into Florida that have no cases of COVID-19.
About half the state’s reported COVID-19 cases are in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. But limited testing so far has yet to find any cases of the virus in a third of Florida’s 67 counties. Another third have reported only a few cases.
“These blunt measures, you wouldn’t want to do these to a community where there is no impact,” DeSantis, saying there are negative consequences of the shelter-at-home orders.
DeSantis did urge companies to have at least 50% of their employees telecommute, if possible, to reduce density at workplaces.
DeSantis issued an executive order on Monday requiring anyone arriving on a flight from New York City and New Jersey to self-quarantine for two weeks. He expanded on that Tuesday afternoon by saying anyone who has traveled to Florida from those places in the last three weeks -- even residents -- should self-isolate. He also said the National Guard was being used to greet flights arriving from New York and New Jersey at some airports in South Florida.
DeSantis’ order came as cities in the tourism-dependent state closed down beaches to throngs of spring breakers and weeks after Disney World, Universal Studios and other major attractions in the state closed their gates to all visitors.
State officials have not responded to a request from The Associated Press for information on how many people diagnosed in Florida recently arrived from New York or had contact with someone who did. Officials from New York and New Jersey did not immediately comment on DeSantis’ order.
DeSantis pointed to a survey of more than 6,600 businesses showing more than half have laid off more than 40,400 people altogether. He also said requests for unemployment benefits have spiked, to 130,000 in four days last week, compared to 28,000 for the entire previous week.
To blunt the impact, the governor has asked President Donald Trump to declare Florida a disaster area, which would make the state eligible for federal aid. In a letter to Trump released late Monday, DeSantis wrote that Florida’s “hospitals, medical facilities, and first responders are facing challenges rarely experienced before.”
He said the state has already spent $208 million on related unemployment assistance, food stamps, disaster loans and mental health counseling.
Trump has not yet acted on the request.
DeSantis has ordered such statewide closures as bars and gyms, and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery. State parks have been closed. But some counties have gone further, closing not only nonessential businesses but also beaches, marinas and some other public areas.
In the absence of a statewide stay-at-home order, officials in some of Florida’s harder-hit municipalities implemented their own. The mandate went into effect Tuesday morning for Miami Beach residents. Other Miami-Dade County municipalities, including Bay Harbor Islands and Bal Harbour Village, issued similar orders Monday night.
Gainesville and surrounding Alachua County, where the 36 confirmed cases include college students returning from Spring Break, also issued “stay at home” orders on Monday. Gainesville is the home of the University of Florida and a community college. All public schools, colleges and universities in Florida are closed.
"People should only be outside for exercise and attending to their necessities like shopping for groceries or visiting a pharmacy,'' Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said in a statement. "It won’t be like this forever, but for now in a community like ours this makes the most sense.''
The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in some, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Those with severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators, stressing the health care system’s capacity to respond.