Gov. Ron DeSantis is approving a request from Palm Beach County, allowing the region to enter Phase One of the state’s plan to reopen the economy beginning Monday, May 11.
That phase carries with it several restrictions. Restaurants and retail outlets must operate at 25% capacities. Other businesses, such as gyms and bars, remain closed.
But South Florida’s tri-county area — Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties — didn’t even qualify for that limited reopening per the Governor’s late April order. Just one week later, the Governor is now changing direction.
Those three counties continue to account for nearly 60% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in the entire state. At a Friday news conference, DeSantis acknowledged the extent of the spread but argued there were positive signs even in South Florida.
“We did the 64 other Florida counties, but we knew that the trends in these three counties — the epidemic was more difficult — but the trends were still positive,” DeSantis said in explaining the rationale for moving to Phase One.
“We wanted to make sure [municipalities] were able to proceed in ways that their communities supported and that made the most sense.”
Palm Beach sits behind Broward and Miami-Dade counties in terms of total cases, however. As of Friday morning, Palm Beach had recorded more than 3,600 cases, or 9% of the statewide total.
County officials have been anxious to reopen, issuing a letter to the Governor earlier this week asking him to add Palm Beach to Phase One of the reopening. DeSantis now says he’ll sign off on that request.
“I am going to authorize, starting Monday, Palm Beach County to move into Phase One consistent with what we’ve done, and we think that they’re ready for it,” DeSantis said.
“I think the people here are very smart. We understand the responsibility that we all have to protect the vulnerable populations here.”
The announcement comes the same day as Palm Beach County officials set a target date of May 18 for reopening beaches in the region.
The Governor pointed out a drop in the rate of positive tests in county as a rationale for his decision.
“Palm Beach, they were at 18% a couple weeks ago. Now they’re under 10%.” He elaborated that rate has vacillated between 3% to 7.5% in recent days.
But DeSantis cautioned about the limited scope of that phased reopening, noting things will not be fully back to normal in the region — or the state — as of yet.
“Just because you go to Phase One, that does not mean the disease is going away,” DeSantis explained. “The shape of it may be different. We seem to be on a decline in many parts of the country. But nobody really knows exactly how this thing’s going to bounce.”
Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner joined the Governor Friday, thanking him for responding to the county’s ask.
“Palm Beach County is well-prepared,” Kerner said. “Phase One is a small step. It’s measured. But it’s a large step for this community.”
beginning space in hospitals
The Governor also said antibody testing would be coming to Palm Beach County for health care workers and first responders. That expands upon a Wednesday announcement that similar tests would be made available in Miami Dade County, Orange County and Jacksonville.
To start, the Palm beach site will be able to handle 100 tests per day and deliver same-day results.
The existence of those antibodies doesn’t show whether you currently have the virus. Rather, it shows if you’ve previously contracted it. Health experts believe those who have contracted the virus may be immune going forward. That’s not confirmed as of yet, however, nor is it clear how long that immunity would last.
“Palm Beach is incredibly important for our state,” DeSantis added Friday.
“This is not like flipping a switch. It’s not just going to go back overnight. But I think if we take nice, strong, methodical, safe step forward, we’re going to be able to get people back to work. And you can put people back to work and still support our seniors. You can put people back to work and still send PPE to long-term care facilities. You can put people back to work and still have procedures in place so that these residents are cared for appropriately.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, whose district covers parts of Palm Beach County, voiced skepticism about the move late Friday. Deutch released a letter addressed to Palm Beach County Director Dr. Alina Alonso asking her about the county’s readiness to reopen.
“As of this writing, I have not seen a plan that details Palm Beach County’s readiness to detect new infections quickly, trace and isolate all contacts of newly confirmed cases, and prevent renewed outbreaks and continued community spread of the virus,” Deutch wrote, before addressing Alonso directly.
“I greatly appreciate the work you are doing to keep my constituents safe and to inform Palm Beach County residents of the risks and prevention strategies that will save lives from the novel coronavirus. You have put science and public health expertise into action. We need your voice, and the voices of other public health officials, to lead our efforts as we consider relaxing community mitigation policies and reopening our economy.”