The Re-Open Florida Task Force saw more input from public health experts Thursday, possibly assuaging concerns the task force, working at a fast pace, is putting too much emphasis on reopening the economy.
Like in days prior, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted the progress made in containing the COVID-19 pandemic. But this time, he dropped the rhetoric that turned some recent appearances into media criticisms rather than an effort to illuminate the coronavirus reality in Florida.
“Going forward, I think it’s important from a health perspective that we keep the momentum going, but from the economic perspective, we need to have people have confidence that what’s going on economically is being done safely and with an eye toward making sure people are protected,” DeSantis said.
The Governor decried what he called a conflation between social distancing and shutting everything down.
“You can do a lot of things to social distance that doesn’t involve completely shutting down everything, and I think that we’ve seen that be effective in other countries, and I think obviously in Florida, we’ve seen that be effective as well,” he said.
While DeSantis has faced questions on whether public health officials have taken a back seat during health talks, the executive committee showed a different face Thursday. Dr. Shamarial Roberson, the Department of Health’s (DOH) deputy secretary of health, introduced the White House’s “Opening Up America Again” guidelines intended to be a template for states to follow as they plan their reopenings.
Those guidelines make the suggestion that states should implement the three-phased reopening differently depending on how the pandemic hit each community. Roberson echoed recent indications by DeSantis that metropolitan areas might be slower to reopen than rural regions.
As a progressive reopening moves forward, protecting the elderly will remain the state’s priority. Throughout the pandemic, DOH has hired 200 epidemiologists. Tracking new symptoms, cases and hospitalizations in the health care system will give the state a heads-up on a possible COVID-19 resurgence.
Building off the day prior’s discussion, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, who leads the task force’s top committee, said businesses will want clarity on which recommendations are strict and which guidelines are less rigid, and at what point those rules relax. All businesses have unique situations, such as the close proximity necessary in barbershops and salons.
Senate President-Designate Wilton Simpson was able to present his first report after Wednesday’s meeting was sacked over technical difficulties the Governor later suggested may have been intentional. He laid out agricultural concerns and reopening health care services that have been deemed nonessential, such as elective surgeries.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis called the updates about elective surgeries and bringing back nonessential treatments “music to [his] ears.”
“Our hospitals and surgical centers and those physicians, they understand how to handle pandemic-type conditions better than anybody, and I look at so many of those operations are nothing more than small businesses that want to get back to work,” he added.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran shared the need for rebuilding trust in education and what precautions may be necessary in the confines of a factory. VISIT FLORIDA CEO Dana Young shared the findings of the housing, construction and transportation industries, which have mostly maintained limited operations, though not without taking hits.
As the discussion neared an end, Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris jumped in to give his diagnosis. The three presentations were outstanding, fair and concise, he said.
“I feel like coming into tomorrow’s discussion, we’ve got some real tangible items that we can debate and start to present to our Governor.”
Núñez shared the sentiment.
“As we get ready to, sort of, roll up our sleeves, get to work and provide, as you said, tangible recommendations to our Governor, I think those discussions that have been had at the subgroup level are important, but obviously we want to take it now to the next level.”
DeSantis’ Chief of Staff Shane Strum hit his unmute button to help explain what the remaining days of the task force will look like. After the final working group meetings Friday, the Governor’s policy director, Chris Spencer, would transcribe the task force’s recommendation into written recommendations over the weekend. And after the task force proofreads those recommendations and offers any tweaks, DeSantis should have the task force’s final suggestions by early next week.
“This does not mean it’s the end,” Strum said. “We’re trying to just make sure that we’re bringing everything forward in a quick manner as people are really anxious for us to get back open. We want to make sure that we bring everything forward in a thoughtful and diligent way. We’re going to be measured in how we move forward.”