After resisting calls to order Floridians to stay indoors, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday issued a stay-at-home order directing Floridians to stay home except for essential trips.
The order begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
The announcement comes one month after the state reported its first coronavirus case and just one day after the Governor held a press conference to defend his decision to leave it to local jurisdictions to decide on restrictions for their own communities.
The move also comes the day after Department of Health officials reported more than 1,000 new cases in 24 hours, along with 14 new fatalities. Still, DeSantis resisted using the words “stay-at-home order” in his Wednesday address in front of cameras.
DeSantis had previously pointed to the uneven distribution of infections across the state and low overall infection rate as reasons to not issue a statewide order, as well as the inevitable non-compliance. But he changed his tune Wednesday.
“At this point, I think even though there’s a lot of places in Florida that have very low infection rates, it makes sense to make this move now,” he said.
The Governor cited President Donald Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory to maintain social distancing through April 30, calling it a signal to shut down the state.
“When the President did the 30-day extension, to me, that was (saying) people aren’t just going to go back to work,” he said. “That’s a national pause button.”
On Wednesday morning’s “Today” show, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams stopped short of saying DeSantis should reverse course and issue a statewide mandate, but he made clear that federal intent was for people to stay at home to flatten the curve of coronavirus transmissions.
“Governors have tough choices to make,” he said. “They have to decide whether or not they feel like their citizens will listen to them without a stay-at-home order.”
The evening before, DeSantis said the White House task force had not recommended to him that he issue a blanket stay-at-home order.
“If they do, that’s something that would carry a lot of weight with me,” he said of a possible task force recommendation Tuesday.
Floridians will only be allowed outside for essential services until April 30. Examples of essential activities listed in the executive order include attending religious services, taking care of pets and caring for a loved one or friend.
The list of those services is based on a compilation made by Miami-Dade County and Mayor Carlos Giménez. Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz and Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees will be able to add essential services as needed.
County sheriffs will be able to enforce the order with threat of criminal charges, but DeSantis said not everyone out doing something nonessential will necessarily be arrested or subjected to a criminal penalty.
“At some point, you do need to just exercise good judgment,” he said. “The government can’t ham-fist everyone into their bedroom. That’s just not practical.”
The order also reiterates that seniors and people with underlying health conditions should stay home for their own protection. It lists lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, a compromised immune system, cancer, diabetes, severe obesity, renal failure and liver disease as underlying conditions.
With the order now issued, Democrats — who were in lockstep in arguing for a safer-at-home order — had diverging reactions to the executive order. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and others claimed victory while Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo found it “distressing” DeSantis waited to issue it.
A model cited by the Trump administration suggests Florida could see 6,937 deaths by August.
The latest report from the Department of Health shows 6,955 coronavirus cases involving the state, including 6,694 Floridians and 87 deaths.
On Monday, DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order impacting four counties in South Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, the three that have been hit the hardest.
Here is the official order from the Governor’s Office:
Florida Politics reporter Sarah Mueller contributed to this report.