As Governor readies task force to reopen state, Florida Democrats say health experts should lead

The party warned DeSantis not to reopen the state without sufficient testing capacity.

Florida Democrats Monday warned Gov. Ron DeSantis against reopening the state too quickly, arguing the advice of health experts should reign supreme.

“We need a President and a Governor who put the health and safety of Americans and Floridians first,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo.

“President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis are already turning their attention to relaxing the social distancing measures that continue to be critical to limiting the spread of COVID-19 here. However, Trump has not taken the steps necessary to open the economy safely and still does not have a strategy to implement mass COVID-19 testing. Public health experts have been crystal clear: We need national mass testing before we can relax social distancing.”

Rizzo took part in a Monday morning Zoom conference to discuss DeSantis’ proposed task force to examine reopening Florida’s economy. But it’s unclear who will be part of that task force or what precise influence public health experts will have over decisions being made.

The Governor already gave his OK to some local governments — such as Duval County — to reopen beaches. U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala said that was the wrong move, and warned other localities from following Duval’s lead.

“Gov. DeSantis cannot be weak. He has to be a leader,” Shalala said.

“That means he has to lay out very strong procedures, and you cannot open up the beaches. As much as I’d love to run down to the beach, opening up the beaches is the most dangerous thing that you can do.”

Duval and nearby St. Johns counties have only reopened beaches for recreation, allowing people to walk and surf. People are not permitted to sit or sunbathe under the regulations.

Still, some health experts have criticized the decision, warning it could enable large crowds to congregate and potentially spread the novel coronavirus.

Sen. Lori Berman echoed those concerns as she discussed the Governor’s task force.

“He needs to be using scientific data when they look at this information,” Berman said.

“I know that absent widespread, accessible and accurate diagnostic and antibody testing in Florida, reopening our state and relaxing social distancing would jeopardize the health and safety of our residents, which is our paramount concern. Every decision the Governor makes needs to be predicated on the advice of our nation’s leading health experts.”

The conflict between public health and the economy has been at the forefront of the conversation around these decisions.

Social distancing guidelines have helped flatten the curve, and lessened projected impacts. But those efforts have also severely impacted the state’s economy, causing hundreds of thousands of Floridians to file for unemployment.

Trump has pitched a phased-in reopening, slowly allowing life to return to normal while attempting to avoid another spike in infections. But without widespread testing to fully determine the number of people infected, some warn such a move would be risky.

The Governor’s task force on reopening the economy will begin meeting this week.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


  • Betty Durham

    April 20, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Way to soon. Only make us stay in our homes much longer because it will cause more infections. Wrong move DeSantis.

    • Enough

      April 21, 2020 at 8:23 am

      You’re welcome to sit in your house until a vaccine is (hopefully) developed. The rest of us are going to get back to living, albeit a little more distantly, and with an economy in tatters.

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