Sun Sentinel: Slow down on reopening Florida, legislators tell governor

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Washington, May 8, 2020 | comments
Ten Democratic members of Congress from Florida are warning Gov. Ron DeSantis that they have “grave concerns” about the way he’s trying to reopen the state.
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SUN SENTINEL

Slow down on reopening Florida, legislators tell governor
By Anthony Man

All seven Democratic members of Congress from South Florida, the region of the state that’s been by far the most affected by the new coronavirus, are warning Gov. Ron DeSantis that they have “grave concerns” about the way he’s trying to reopen the state.

U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala and Frederica Wilson said their concerns extend beyond Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, which they represent.

In a letter to DeSantis they plan to release Friday, the members of Congress said they have “grave concerns with the reopening of our state and its implications for the safety of Florida’s residents as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.”

The lawmakers acknowledged “the tremendous burden placed on the economy by stay-at-home orders and closed businesses,” but urged DeSantis to “prioritize the health and safety of Floridians above all else. A rushed reopening may very well serve only to increase the human loss caused by an already historic public health crisis, as states moving forward with reopening are seeing increases in new COVID-19 cases.”

“There’s been good trends; there’s been a lot of great work in all three of these counties,” DeSantis said Wednesday at a news conference at the drive-thru coronavirus testing site at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. “We’ll hopefully be able to go forward soon in southern Florida.”

The signers include three members of Congress who represent most of Palm Beach County. On Thursday, Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, a Democrat, wrote a letter to DeSantis telling him that county commissioners have decided the county is “ready to open businesses” and asked him to allow a reopening “in a similar fashion to other counties of the state outside South Florida.”

In their letter, which originated with Wasserman Schultz, the members of Congress said reopening is premature. They said there isn’t enough testing or contact tracing of people who test positive to reopen safely. “Without all pieces in place, it is unacceptable to reopen the state and expose our population to increased risk of infection,” they wrote.

The 22,849 cases the Department of Public Health reported Thursday in the three counties are 59% of all the cases in the state. The 906 deaths are 57% of the Florida total. The region is home to 29% of the state’s population.

“We are relieved that the three South Florida counties (Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach) that continue to be at the epicenter of the pandemic in Florida are excluded from the State’s reopening plan. Nevertheless, we know all too well that a virus does not respect borders or county lines, and a reopening in one area does not preclude another area from increased risk,” the letter said. “We are one state, and therefore we should have one statewide plan that accounts for the cross-county interconnections that define everyday life.”

Like many Democratic elected officials in Florida, the people who signed the letter have been critical of DeSantis and President Donald Trump’s responses since the early phases of the pandemic.

Democrats argued in March that DeSantis was too slow to issue a stay-at-home order to curb the spread of the virus. He finally issued an order April 1 that went into effect April 3. Some of those restrictions were lifted Monday with the Phase 1 reopening everywhere but South Florida.

Under Phase 1, many businesses have been allowed to open on a limited bases, provided they practice social distancing policies. Restaurants and retail establishments are limited to 25% capacity and many businesses such as bars, barber shops, hair salons and gyms aren’t open.

The letter-writers directed more criticism at DeSantis, alerting him to their view that since the beginning of the crisis he “resisted the implementation of science-based and data-driven mitigation strategies and withheld valuable data from the public.”

Central Florida U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Darren Soto and north Florida U.S. Rep. Al Lawson also signed the letter.

They demanded that he explain multiple aspects of what he’s doing: why he’s started to reopen the state “without a robust” testing system in place, what’s being done to produce a testing plan, what the state would do to bring more contact tracers on board, whether hospitals are prepared for a future spike, what levels of levels of personal protective equipment are avaiable, what social distancing criteria he insists on for businesses to reopen.

DeSantis has said in multiple recent appearances that Florida is seeing decreasing infection rates; many available test spots at sites in the state aren’t being used; multiple test sites have been established; contact tracing has been in place since the early days of the pandemic; and there is an ample supply of hospital beds and ventilators. He’s made social distancing and capacity limitations features of the Phase 1 reopening.

Read the original story here.

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