Gov. DeSantis issues ‘safer at home’ order covering four South FL counties only

A mobile police tower overlooks an area of South Beach that the city closed in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Credit: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

Update: This story has been amended to reflect that the actual wording of the order says it will remain in effect until April 15. The governor gave different timing during his news conference.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has resisted demands to keep everyone at home during the COVID-19 crisis, has relented — but not entirely.

Monday, the governor will release a “safer at home” order that would require residents of four South Florida counties to self-isolate.

Those counties are Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe. South Florida has been the center of the coronavirus pandemic in Florida.

As of Monday morning, Florida had 5,473 infections, up from two coronavirus cases on March 1. Miami-Dade had 1,632, Broward 1,152, and Palm Beach, 423, according to Florida Health Department data.

Those three counties represent about 60 percent of all infections in Florida. Monroe County has only 24 infections.

The South Florida area also is a hub for international and domestic travel, particularly from “hot spots” like the New York City region.

“Safer at home” is a version of the self-isolation within their homes being encouraged or mandated nationwide. The exact outlines of DeSantis’ plans weren’t available as of Monday morning — the new executive order had yet to post on the governor’s website.

However, Hillsborough County’s version allows trips in search of necessities including food and medications, travel for work at essential businesses,  care for sick friends or relatives, exercise, or walking the dog.

The order will remain in effect until April 15, “and then we’ll see where we’re at,” the governor said.

DeSantis also announced that he would clear recently retired law enforcement and medical workers to fill in for staff exposed to the respiratory disease.

Numerous Florida cities and counties have already issued their own “stay at home” orders and curfews, and DeSantis promises to codify “a common set of rules” in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe to get “all four counties operating under the same sheet of music.”

The order apparently will not include a curfew. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that’s not necessary outside a few tourist-heavy locations. “We should not overburden our fine men and women of the police force when there’s no need for a curfew,” he said.

“We’re going guns blazing, doing all that we can to be able to slow the spread of COVID-19,” the governor said.

Flanked by South Florida mayors, DeSantis made the announcement Monday in the parking lot of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, which is hosting a drive-through COVID-19 testing site.

DeSantis has argued against a statewide order on the ground that local officials should be allowed to respond to local conditions. He also has argued that some areas of the state have yet to report any infections with the new coronavirus that’s been linked to COVID-19.

A lawsuit filed in Leon County Circuit Court seeks to compel the governor to issue a statewide order.

However, he seemed to concede Monday that low-reported infection rates do not mean there isn’t a problem. Palm Beach County “is a distant third in infections behind Miami and Broward, but they’ve not had the same level of testing. So we think its really important to flood the zone in Palm Beach with testing,” DeSantis said.

Regarding the retired emergency workers, DeSantis said that state law prevents retirees from returning to work for six months following their retirement. Yet active-duty workers who come into contact with infected people must self-isolate for 14 days, straining the human resources needed to fight the pandemic.

“I will suspend that prohibition. We need to have folks who are willing to come return to service,” he said.

Additionally, the governor announced that Florida has received a controversial supply of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of COVID-19 under some circumstances, and is sending the medicine to South Florida.

The state has sent 1,750 coronavirus test kits that can return results within 45 minutes to Broward County and 500 of the kits to “Northern Florida” without specifying the exact destination. An agreement to acquire a five-minute test is imminent, DeSantis said.

The governor signaled he feels vindicated in his targeting of travelers by a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory over the weekend urging people in the New York City region to forego all nonessential travel. The area is the hardest hit by COVID-19 within the United States and has been under a stay-at-home order.

DeSantis said police checkpoints are in place on Interstate 10, targeting travelers from Louisiana, another hot spot; and I-95. Monroe County has restricted tourist travel to the Florida Keys.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.