TALLAHASSEE — The first meeting of the Re-Open Florida Task Force did not include discussion about the health risks of returning people to work and the extensive testing requirements needed before returning people to normal life.
The 90-minute meeting Monday of the group led by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Chamber of Commerce focused on statistics about the state economy and business leaders thanking DeSantis for his “thoughtful,” “decisive" and “proactive” leadership.
The state’s top two health officials, the surgeon general and the secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration, were not heard from until the end of the call.
Priority was given to the corporate-backed Chamber of Commerce, which advocated heavily for DeSantis not to shut down the state last month. Chamber CEO Mark Wilson, the first speaker after DeSantis, spent 10 minutes talking about Florida’s pre-coronavirus economy and which jobs are most at risk during the shutdown.
“If Florida was a nation, we would be the world’s 17th-largest economy,” Wilson said. “And our goal by 2030 is to be the 10th-largest economy, and we hope you’ll keep that in mind as you think about your recommendations.”
The task force members, who were not announced until the end of Monday’s teleconferenced meeting, include the state’s top elected Republicans and representatives from some of the state’s largest corporations and trade groups, including Disney, Lockheed Martin, Florida Power & Light, AT&T and the Florida Bankers Association. Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris is on the task force, but no members are doctors.
Task force members have a short deadline. They will meet every day this week and produce recommendations to DeSantis by Friday. The meetings, which resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday, are streaming live on thefloridachannel.org.
Not included Monday was Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state’s top elected Democrat. She called her lack of involvement “deeply concerning" considering the effects of COVID-19 on the state’s second-largest industry.
“This is sadly more of the same politics over state from the governor,” Fried said in a statement. “I was not asked to serve alongside my fellow Cabinet members on the task force, which has no voice on its membership representing Florida’s $137 billion agriculture industry.”
Also missing were any representatives from small businesses, whom DeSantis and his spokeswoman had assured would have a “big emphasis” on the task force meetings.
While getting people back to work is considered essential to Americans’ mental and economic recovery from coronavirus, public health experts say states are nowhere near prepared to handle the influx of cases.
DeSantis’ surgeon general, Scott Rivkees, said last week that Floridians should continue social distancing until a vaccine exists, an idea DeSantis dismissed.
During Monday’s call, DeSantis derided “the media and expert class” for COVID-19 models that showed the state could be overwhelmed by the virus if the governor did not issue a stay-at-home order.
“People were literally just frightened to the dickens,” DeSantis said.
Minutes after the meeting ended, DeSantis used the state COVID-19 text message alert system to reiterate how he has handled the virus correctly.
“Last month, media reports came flying in that Florida would run out of hospital and ICU beds due to the coronavirus," he said. “They posted scary charts. They said we were a week or two behind Italy and New York.”
He noted those projections have not come to fruition.
“Data shows these efforts are working well,” he said. “Especially compared to what the experts predicted many weeks ago.”
Members of the Re-Open Florida Task Force
- Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez
- Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis
- Attorney General Ashley Moody
- Senate President Bill Galvano
- House Speaker José Oliva
- Sen. Wilton Simpson, president-designate, Florida Senate
- Rep. Chris Sprowls, speaker-designate, Florida House
- Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran
- Jamal Sowell, president & CEO, Enterprise Florida, Inc.
- Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez
- Broward County Mayor Dale Holness
- Palm Beach County Mayor David Kerner
- John Couris, president & CEO, Tampa General Hospital
- Josh D’Amaro, president, Walt Disney World Resort
- Todd Jones, CEO, Publix Super Markets
- Syd Kitson, chairman, Board of Governors for the State University System
- Paul Reilly, chairman & CEO, Raymond James Financial
- Alex Sanchez, president & CEO, Florida Bankers Association
- Eric Silagy, president & CEO, Florida Power & Light Company
- John Sprouls, CEO, Universal Orlando Resort, Executive Vice President, Universal Parks & Resorts
- Patrick Sunderlin, vice president, Global Supply Chain, Lockheed Martin Corporation
- Joe York, president, AT&T Florida and Caribbean
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