Gov. DeSantis: ‘We’re going to be cautious’ as Phase 1 restrictions loosen on Monday

Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed a news conference on May 3 at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach. Source: Screengrab

Gov. Ron DeSantis stressed Sunday, as the state prepares to begin lifting his COVID-19 stay-home order, that state government is building the medical resources it needs to fight the disease during the summer and any reemergence of the new coronavirus this fall.

“Nobody really knows what shape the epidemic’s going to take. As we go into Phase 1, we just have to wait and see and look at the data,” the governor said during a news conference in Daytona Beach.

“There are some people who think we’ve kind of gotten through this as a country, that it may subside and then really come back in the fall. Well, if that happens we’re going to have a much better infrastructure put into place than the country had in February and early March.”

“Phase 1” is the first of three steps DeSantis plans to get the state’s economy working again following his early April order closing businesses and other vectors where people might gather and spread the virus.

A new executive order the governor signed last week allows restaurants, retail stores, museums and libraries to reopen at diminished capacity if they enforce other social distancing guidelines, effective at 10:01 a.m. Monday. That order does not extend to Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties, which have generated the bulk of the caseload.

Additionally, elective surgeries that DeSantis banned early in the crisis will resume. During his appearance at Halifax Health Medical Center Sunday, the governor said Florida’s hospitals have plenty of capacity to treat both COVID patients and those in need of cardiac and other surgeries — and that people won’t seriously risk infection by going to the doctor.

DeSantis also has authorized a limited reopening of state parks and has signaled a willingness to allow barbers, beauty shops, and nail salons to reopen — again, subject to social distancing.

“It’s not that there’s going to be an earth-shattering difference between Phase 1 and what we’ve been doing. We’re going to be cautious,” he said.

“I know there are some folks saying, ‘Hey, flip the switch and just go be done with it,’” DeSantis added.

“The country has never handled an epidemic like we’ve handled this one,” he said. “Anyone who tells you they know for sure, they’re not being honest.”

Antibody testing will include a major effort to identify Floridians who have been exposed and possibly fought off the virus, even if they haven’t displayed any symptoms. Some 200,000 antibody tests arrived in the state at 3 a.m. Sunday, the governor said.

The tests have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to identify antibodies to the new coronavirus behind COVID-19, he said.

Public health officials will deploy the tests through hospitals, drive-through and walk-through testing sites, and with blood donations, he said. The idea is to screen medical workers, employees of long-term care facilities, and the general public and gain a better idea about how the virus spreads.

“The number of people with the antibodies far exceeds the number of people who have actually tested positive in a diagnostic test,” he said. “That has implications for how you deal with the epidemic going forward.”

The state will continue to offer testing at 11 drive-through sites, with plans for more such facilities, and soon will begin dispatching an RV-based testing lab to long-term care centers throughout the state, DeSantis said. And private sector pharmacies will soon begin offering coronavirus tests.

Especially outside Southeast Florida, nursing homes have been the main vector for COVID-19, he said.

That’s why he feels its safe to tentatively being reopening businesses outside that region.

“There’s going to be more cases that are going to be found because we’re testing more asymptomatic people now,” the governor said.

“That will allow us to identify infected people who are very low risk for hospitalization or fatalities. But that’s a good thing that we know that, because that could be somebody who could spread it to one of the vulnerable populations,” he said.

On Sunday, the Florida Department of Health reported 36,078 COVID-19 infections across that state and 1,379 deaths. In both measures, the numbers increased compared to Saturday.

DeSantis promised a news conference Monday to discuss the state’s unemployment compensation system, which has been overwhelmed in the COVID economic dislocation. He did say that the system has processed 700,000 claims to date and paid 450,000 claims.

“I know this is very difficult for a lot of people. The system just totally broke — it’s not a good system. We’re going to deal with that.”

Gov. DeSantis argues expanded medical capacity justifies his steps toward reopening Florida’s economy