Tensions Mount Over Divide On Statewide Stay-At-Home Order, As DeSantis Leaves Decision To Locals
As some U.S. state leaders have issued shelter-in-place orders statewide, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has pushed the decision down to local governments, some of which are doing so. DeSantis is facing partisan pressure to lock the state down.
At the beginning of this week, the governor characterized a statewide stay at home order as a “blunt instrument.” As of midday Friday, there were 20 counties without a confirmed case of COVID-19 as reported by the Florida Department of Health. DeSantis says that factors into his decision thus far.
“I think given our circumstances, that that would not be advisable. It would be a very blunt instrument. When you’re ordering people to shelter in place, you are consigning a number, probably hundreds of thousands of Floridians to lose their jobs. You’re throwing their lives into potential disarray,” DeSantis said during a media briefing. “And if that were something that were necessary statewide – because the health comes first – that would be one thing. But if you look at Florida’s situation right now, this is not a virus that is impacting every corner of the state.”
Other statewide measures to mitigate spread of COVID-19 are putting a squeeze on the economy. A look at Florida’s unemployment filings flooding in this week in the tens of thousands shows job loss already is a problem amid closures of bars and gyms, and restaurants relegated to only takeout and delivery.
Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, has led the charge in calling on DeSantis to take action on a stay-at-home order.
“If you are doing all these precautionary matters, we have the power individually. So, I think you look at it as that we are empowering people more than anything else to really take their own health and wellness, and that of their family members, seriously,” Fried said earlier this week.
With DeSantis’ assertion a statewide shelter-in-place isn’t necessary as fewer than a third of Florida counties still show no cases – how do officials in those counties feel about it?
Anthony Viegbisie has been a Gadsden County commissioner since 2014. The rural North Florida county has seen no cases within the county – though one resident of Gadsden tested positive in another state.
Viegbesie and other Gadsden officials this week decided to order a local shelter-in-place order.
“We don’t have any cases – but we are making all preventative measures to keep it the same way,” the Gadsden commissioner told WFSU. “So we’re doing our part to flatten the curve of the infection, for the nation, coming from Florida.”
But even politicians in more populous areas, with documented coronavirus cases, don’t see the need to go that route. On Tuesday, Jacksonville state Rep. Clay Yarborough – even with known COVID-19 cases in Duval County – took DeSantis’ side on holding off on a stay-at-home order.
“If you do more mandates to close businesses and to tell everyone that they can’t go to work – especially for those who can’t, maybe, telecommute with work, you’re causing greater burden and greater stress, you could say generally on the economy but what does that mean? That’s on these individual workers and individual businesses,” Yarborough said.
As of Friday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and City leadership hadn’t issued a shelter-in-place order.
Even some public health experts in academia aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the issue of stay-at-home orders. Dr. Perry Brown, an epidemiologist with Florida A&M University’s Institute of Public Health says, says the data doesn’t warrant a statewide shutdown at the moment.
“As one looks at the state, it’s really a checkerboard…of new cases that have been diagnosed,” Brown said. “So taking a statewide approach might not be best because one size doesn’t fit all.”
Brown says a state lockdown shouldn’t be ruled out in the future, though, as the number of infected continues to balloon.
Meanwhile, University of Tampa Public Health professor Tracey Zontek thinks waiting is a bad idea.
“If we do piecemeal, we risk infecting other communities that are not infected. Because it will tell people well, in my county I can’t do this – but I can do it in the next county,” Zontek told Tampa’s public radio station, WUSF, this week.
As of Friday, the governor is staying his original course, leaving cities and counties to make the call for themselves.