DeSantis forming task force to focus on reopening Florida

Governor said 100 servers, 1,000 people added to help unemployment bottleneck

Gov. Ron DeSantis updates status of Florida's response to COVID-19. (WJXT)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Encouraged that Florida’s efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus are working, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday he is forming a task force to begin looking at when and how to reopen businesses, schools and other aspects of life in the state.

“Let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing,” DeSantis said. ″I want to do is tap into people in elected office, people in business, people are involved in education and all kinds of things and get the best ideas about, you know, what’s the most prudent way to move forward."

DeSantis said he is asking leaders in the fields of business and education as well as elected officials to be a part of a task force he hopes to name by the end of the week. They’ll be looking at when to reopen restaurants, stores and businesses, allow kids to go back to school, reopen the state for tourists and begin rescheduling events.

DeSantis said one of the factors in reopening the state is that there are more hospital beds in the Florida open now than in late March. While that doesn’t mean that there won’t be more infections, hospitalizations and deaths, it does mean we have avoided overwhelming the health care system.

“There were some, their hair was on fire. They were really worried about what was going to happen,” DeSantis said. "I think people, now, feel the trend has been good. I think, really, across the state, I think they are becoming confident that we’ll be able to handle the COVID patients. Clearly. we have not even gotten close to busting the medical system.”

DeSantis, who was criticized earlier this week for allowing WWE to resume broadcasting live events, said he hopes to do more televised sports like NASCAR, golf, baseball and other events to help people feel a sense of normalcy.

As for schools, DeSantis said he would have more to announce on Thursday, but did say the state received a $173.6 million grant as part of the federal CARES act to help with educational expenses caused by coronavirus.

Efforts to speed up unemployment benefits

DeSantis said 100 new servers have been added to keep up with demand on the state’s unemployment website and there are now more than 1,000 answering phone calls about their benefits. He hopes to ramp that up to 2,000 people on the phones -- which is up from a couple of dozen people in the call center before this crisis.

DeSantis said more than 500,000 claims were submitted on a second website that set was up to meet the demand and he is asking for numbers daily of the number of claims processed.

DeSantis said his next goal will be to get unemployment benefits into people’s hands as quickly as possible. Under normal circumstances, it takes about three weeks from filing a claim to getting a check into a person’s hands. His goal is to make it happen faster.