DeSantis: Florida hospitals not overwhelmed, ready to resume elective procedures Monday

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a COVID-19 press conference at a hospital in Daytona Beach. (News4Jax)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As part of phase one of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s plan to slowly reopen the state’s economy, hospitals can resume scheduling non-emergency procedures starting Monday.

With that in mind, DeSantis held a press conference Sunday alongside doctors at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach to encourage potential patients to visit Florida hospitals if they are concerned about their health.

On March 20, DeSantis issued an executive order directing hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, office surgery centers, dental offices and other health-care providers to cease performing elective services. The executive order stemmed from a push to conserve medical supplies, including personal-protective equipment, as hospitals and health-care workers prepared for a surge in patients with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“We took a lot of these actions to be able to prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed,” DeSantis said. “That obviously has succeeded, we have not seen that in Florida, but because all these other things were not happening, a lot of hospitals had to furlough workers and so some of the capacity was actually diminished on the back end, so this will allow the system to start running again like it should. And obviously, it will be good for people’s health.”

The executive order was slated to last through May 8, but hospital and physician organizations two weeks ago sent letters to DeSantis seeking to scale back the restrictions on procedures. DeSantis last week decided to lift the order and allow elective procedures to resume May 4.

Halifax Health doctors said Sunday that emergency room volumes at the hospital are down approximately 50% from normal levels. Doctors said they would begin working on a backlog of surgeries starting Monday.

Hospitals in Jacksonville like UF Health and Ascension St. Vincents announced last week that elective procedures will resume and many of the safeguards to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 will remain in place.

“It’s important we take careful and measured steps to ensure a safe return to providing full access to healthcare services while also continuing to serve and support individuals and communities impacted by COVID-19,” said Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Huson Gilberstadt. “As these events unfold, patients can expect expanded access to healthcare services with enhanced safeguards to ensure our sites of care continue to serve as healing environments.”

DeSantis on Sunday also addressed the state’s “broken” unemployment system that has buckled under the high demand from the more than one million Florida residents looking for assistance during the pandemic.

DeSantis said he plans to provide an update during a Monday press conference on what the state is doing to get money in the hands of those who need it. (News4Jax plans to carry the press conference on-air and online)

“I think people should tune in. I think that that will be very helpful,” DeSantis said.

Here’s a summary for what will happen/not be different on Monday:

  • Schools must keep distance learning.
  • Visits to senior living facilities remain prohibited.
  • Elective surgeries can resume.
  • Indoor seating at restaurants must be at 25% capacity. Restaurants may offer outdoor seating with six feet of space between tables.
  • Libraries and museums can also open at 25% capacity with local government approval.
  • No change for bars, nightclubs, gyms and personal services, like hairdressers.
  • Sporting events can resume and sports venues can reopen but with no spectators.
  • Vulnerable individuals should continue to avoid close contact with people outside the home.
  • Everyone should maximize physical distance from others while in public.
  • Avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 people in circumstances that do not “readily allow for physical distancing.”
  • Churches and houses of worship were never closed so there is no change in phase one, although any building or venue that is open should continue to follow appropriate social distancing and sanitation procedures.
  • Child care facilities that could follow proper social distancing protocols were never closed and there is no change in that rule.
  • Face masks are recommended but not required for those in face-to-face interactions and where you can’t social distance.
  • Violation of 25% capacity limits and other restrictions remain a second-degree misdemeanor with a fine up to $500. Regulated businesses may face enforcement action for violations from their regulatory agency.
  • State parks will reopen beginning on Monday

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report

About the Author:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.