This is the first of three phases to reopen Florida.
The first phase to reopen Florida centers around retail, restaurants and elective surgeries, a decision the state made due to Florida's COVID-19 data being significantly lower than projections predicted, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday, April 29.
The governor stated that in this first of three phases of the "Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step" plan for Florida's recovery, retail stores will be allowed to operate at 25% indoor capacity; restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor seating spaced at six-feet intervals and have indoor seating at 25% capacity; and elective surgeries will resume in hospitals. These changes will go into effect for every county besides Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County on Monday, May 4.
At this time, distance learning will remain in place in schools, visits to senior living facilities are still prohibited, and bars, gyms and personal services remain closed.
In addition, DeSantis said the vulnerable population should continue to avoid close contact with people outside their household, and that everyone should maximize physical distance from others when in public. Socializing should be limited to no more than 10 people where physical distancing is not easily accomplishable, and face masks are recommended for people interacting face-to-face.
“We’re going to be safe, smart and we’re going to do this step-by-step," DeSantis said. 'We are trying to build a foundation for the future of the state of Florida. We did not ask to be put in this situation."
DeSantis began the press conference by painting a bleak picture of the effects COVID-19 has had on the state's population. He said people have experienced economic and social turmoil, lost jobs, businesses have been devastated, and family members have been unable to say goodbye to those dying in hospitals. He said children haven't seen friends from schools; their sports, activities and plays have "gone up in smoke;" and graduations and proms have been canceled.
“These moments will be forever lost," DeSantis said.
The governor stated that "fear is our enemy," and continued on to outline the principles the state is using to guide its phased reopening. These include public health and safety, health care system readiness, public confidence and protection of civil liberties and maintaining individual rights.
As part of the plan for the state's recovery, DeSantis said the state will prevent COVID-19 introduction into the community from outside Florida, support hospital capacity and health care workers, promote social distancing and increase testing — including the acquisition of a mobile lab that will travel the state with the ability to test 3,500 people per week. Results will take 45 minutes and the state hopes to implement the lab next week in high-risk areas such as nursing homes.
The governor also contrasted news headlines reporting COVID-19 projections that "promoted a worst-case scenario" where Florida was predicted to have an outbreak similar to the ones in New York and Italy with data showing COVID-19's impact was much less.
“Facts should be comforting," DeSantis said."We’ve done much better than everybody said we would do and we’re going to continue to apply a fact-based data-driven approach to the problems that are before us.”
The state will monitor the pandemic's impact moving forward based on hospital bed capacity and resources, as well as the rate of positive cases per people tested. With more testing in the works, people shouldn't be alarmed if new cases are reported, DeSantis said, especially if the positivity rate remains within the current 5-6%.
“The only thing we have to fear is letting fear overwhelm our sense of purpose and determination," DeSantis said.