JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During Thursday’s visit to Jacksonville, Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed back on a prediction by Florida’s former top tourism official that it would take four years for the state to recover from the hit it has taken from the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, Christopher Williams, former CEO of Visit Florida, said the travel economy would lag for years even after a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available. DeSantis disagreed.
“We don’t really know how this thing, how these things shake out, but I will tell you, you know, we made the decision in Florida, you know, once we got to the end of April, to say, ‘OK, the virus isn’t going away, but we can’t just hide in a bunker indefinitely. We’ve got to get people back to work,’” DeSantis told News4Jax. “Obviously we want people following the protocols on, you know, protecting elderly, sanitation, social distance, masks — all that stuff that is important,” DeSantis said. “But we got to keep going.”
At some point, DeSantis said, people will realize that visiting Florida provides outdoor alternatives to other locations. He said visitors will return to the state sooner than some people might expect.
“When you think about how this virus is most transmitted ... usually close, sustained contact indoors. A lot of what Florida offers — boating, fishing, beaches, theme parks — a lot of that is is generally outdoors. So I think it is lower-risk activity. So as people around the country look to say, ‘OK, what do we want to do?’ Well, you’re probably better off fishing in Florida than being at, like, a Broadway play somewhere where you know you have close contact,” DeSantis said.
The governor said reopening Florida had to happen, and the sooner the better.
“We’ve decided to face it head-on. We understand we’ve got to keep society functioning and do it that way,” DeSantis said. “I think when we get on the other side of the Sunbelt surge ... I think people will understand. ... The virus is very important. But if a family can’t put food on their table, they can’t educate their kids. Those are things that are going to be affecting society for months and years into the future.”
DeSantis also talked about the importance of back-to-school sports, and didn’t shy away from comments by former Gov. Rick Scott, who said DeSantis should be a leader and not blame others for the poor unemployment system in the state.
“First of all, I mean I’m not blaming him, but the fact of the matter is the state spent $77 million on a system that could only take about 2,500 applicants at a given time. Well guess what, by the time we got to the end of March we were having 100,000 or more people on the system, it totally crashed the system. We had to bring in engineers to get it going. It took some time,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis did not defend the system and in the past has even called it “designed” to fail. That’s why he wants an inspector general to dig into the details.
“It was a very difficult time, I know, for a lot of Floridians. We’re now at the point where we’ve paid out $12-$13 billion,” DeSantis said. “We have an I.G. that’s investigating how was that the state would have spent so much money for such poor results.”