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DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force given sobering economic data

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A task force assembled by Gov. Ron DeSantis to advise when and how to reopen a state forced to virtually shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic was told Monday that more than 40% of tourism, recreation, retail, real estate, construction and transportation jobs are at risk.

DeSantis opened Monday afternoon’s initial meeting of the Re-Open Florida Task Fore saying he wanted to “get the economy back in a safe way.”

“We want to see people back to work for the long haul and we want to continue with Florida’s economic development strategy,” DeSantis said.

The governor said the executive committee of the task force includes elected officials, business, education, tourism and community leaders, but he has not released a list of the members. (Full list at bottom of this story.)

Florida Chamber of Commerce Chairman and CEO Mark Wilson was introduced as chairman of the group, the state’s Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, Secretary of the Agency for Healthcare Administration Mary Mayhew, the head of the Florida Banker’s Association, some major manufacturers and several metropolitan area mayors were among the executive committee member on the call.

DeSantis and his surgeon general were encouraged by the fact that new positive cases have leveled off and the dire projections that the state’s hospitals would be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases have not come to pass.

AHCA Secretary Mayhew said hospital capacity is actually greater now that was when the state’s response began, but partly because elective procedures were postposed by executive order -- which came at an economic cost to the health care industry.

The chamber’s chief economist said an optimistic projection is that Florida’s gross domestic product will take a 2.3% hit and should come back by the end of the year. His pessimistic projection is an 8.9% dip in GDP and it could take four years to recover.

Potential GDP scenarios

Chart from the Florida Chamber of Commerce
Chart from the Florida Chamber of Commerce (Florida Chamber of Commerce)

SLIDES: Re-Open Florida documents

South Florida remains a hot spot for coronavirus, with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties having 56% of the 26,660 total cases, according to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Health. The state continues to identify hundreds of new cases and dozens of additional deaths each day.

The state has now tested nearly 268,000 people -- about 1.3% of Floridians -- and about 10% of those tested were positive.

Flattening the curve -- seeing a decrease in new cases and deaths -- is cited as the main criteria to judge how quickly the state can begin lifting stay-at-home restrictions. While the definition of flattening the curve is subject to interpretation, within the past week Florida has seen some of the highest daily increases of both COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths since testing began in early March.

Dr. Brent Schillinger, former president of the Palm Beach County Medical Society warned the governor to not move too fast and potentially create a second wave of infections.

“If we lift the restrictions too soon we’re likely to see a huge influx of cases here,” Schillinger said.

The governor said Saturday he will assemble a separate task force to look specifically at ways of scaling up testing.

“We’ll definitely have an agreement with some lab to do high-throughput within the coming days and then we very well may see our state labs beefed up,” DeSantis said.

But state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Palm Beach, argued that until those testing capabilities are actually implemented, it’s too soon to reopen.

“Saying that the curve is flattening and we can start lifting restrictions is like saying the parachute has slowed our rate of descent and now we can take it off,” Berman said.

The governor has said he has no intention of loosening restrictions on nursing homes and assisted living facilities. If anything, he said restrictions might actually be tightened to protect the high-risk populations.

The Re-Open Florida Task Force has established working groups assigned to each of the high, medium and low-risk industries, and recommend when each may reopen, which likely will be in phases and on different schedules. As an example of the suggestions expected to come out of this process for a specific category of business: When can restaurants re-open outside dining spaces or with dining room capacities limited to 25% or 50%?

The results of those daily meetings will be presented to the executive committee, which will hold a conference call daily at 2 p.m. through Friday unless additional time is needed.

Members of the Re-Open Florida Task Force executive committee:

  • Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez
  • Jimmy Patronis, Florida Chief Financial Officer
  • Ashley Moody, Florida Attorney General
  • President Bill Galvano, President, Florida Senate
  • Speaker Jose Oliva, Speaker, Florida House of Representatives
  • Senator Wilton Simpson, President-Designate, Florida Senate
  • Representative Chris Sprowls, Speaker-designate, Florida House of Representatives
  • Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education
  • Jamal Sowell, President & CEO, Enterprise Florida, Inc.
  • Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Mayor, Miami-Dade County
  • Mayor Dale Holness, Mayor, Broward County
  • Mayor David Kerner, Mayor, Palm Beach County
  • John Couris, President & CEO, Tampa General Hospital
  • Josh D’Amaro, President, Walt Disney World Resort
  • Todd Jones, CEO, Publix Super Markets
  • Syd Kitson, Chairman, Board of Governors for the State University System
  • Paul Reilly, Chairman & CEO, Raymond James Financial
  • Alex Sanchez, President & CEO, Florida Bankers Association
  • Eric Silagy, President & CEO, Florida Power & Light Company
  • John Sprouls, CEO, Universal Orlando Resort, Executive Vice President, Universal Parks & Resorts
  • Patrick Sunderlin, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Lockheed Martin Corporation
  • Joe York, President, AT&T Florida and the Caribbean

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