Ron DeSantis: Florida ‘lifting all restrictions on youth activities’

This includes summer camps.
Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference in Jacksonville on May 22, 2020.
Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference in Jacksonville on May 22, 2020. [ Florida Channel ]
Published May 22, 2020|Updated May 22, 2020

School may be out, but summer camp is back in.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that he was ending all restrictions on youth activities across the state, including camps and youth sports. The declaration was the governor’s latest move to wake Florida from its coronavirus-induced economic slumber.

However, the Republican governor said he would not prevent municipalities from imposing more restrictive rules.

“We believe that this makes sense based on the data and observed experience. We are not going to be instituting a lot of rules, or really any rules,” DeSantis said, noting the Florida Department of Health would likely post guidelines for youth activities on its website. “At the end of the day, we trust parents to be able to make decisions in conjunction with physicians.”

DeSantis’ announcement during a news conference in Jacksonville dovetailed with plans of some Tampa Bay area officials, but conflicted with others.

Last week, Hillsborough County’s Department of Parks and Recreation cancelled its series of summer camps.

Hillsborough Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. said the county was awaiting the official executive order from the governor’s office before deciding its next step. Miller said county officials would follow it. Pinellas officials said Friday they have a similar plan.

Late Friday, DeSantis’ office posted the two-page executive order, which was was light on specifics.

Related: Read the executive order here

Miller did note it could be difficult for Hillsborough to open its camps with additional potential restrictions such as social distancing, limited group sizes or masks.

“We’d have to put a lot of things in place before we open up the gates and say, 'Come on in,’” said Miller.

On Thursday, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced the city was opening its summer camps starting June 1.

“We’re continuing ahead with our summer school because people can’t get back to work if they don’t have some type of care for their children,” Mayor Jane Castor said on a Cafe Con Tampa Facebook live stream Friday. "And so we realized that and we’re going to open up our summer camps.”

Ashley Bauman, Castor’s spokeswoman, said DeSantis’ announcement had little to do with the city’s plans to reopen summer camps because the city considers camps to be child care. That type of care was never banned under the governor’s previous restrictions, Bauman said.

Later Friday, Castor said in a statement she would “wholeheartedly support” the governor’s decision to reopen youth sports, provided it was done safely.

St. Petersburg announced last week that its summer camps will proceed at a limited capacity.

A spokeswoman for YMCA of the Suncoast and the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA said Friday afternoon the organizations would wait until the full executive order had been released to comment.

Related: Tampa Bay summer camps: Some are canceled, others set to open with changes

DeSantis contended that youth activities — schools, most notably — were closed in the first place because, in the early days of the pandemic, it was believed children would spread the disease to other, more vulnerable populations.

But children haven’t turned out to be very effective spreaders of the illness, the governor argued Friday.

Related: Florida coronavirus cases near 50,000, as state adds 46 deaths

“The data is pretty clear that, for whatever reason, kids don’t seem to get infected at the same rates that some other adults get infected,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also noted that children are much less likely to face serious consequences from the novel coronavirus. In Florida, five in six coronavirus deaths have come from people 65 and over. Zero people under 25 have died from the disease, DeSantis noted.

Related: In Florida, 83 percent of coronavirus deaths are people 65 and older

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that “relatively few” children have suffered severe health consequences such as hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

However, experts say the issue about how the coronavirus affects children is far from settled.

Dr. Steven L. Zeichner, the head of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Virginia, said it’s true that children older than infants and younger than adolescents seem to be less severely affected by the coronavirus than adults. However, it’s difficult to know how likely a child is to become infected because governments still have not tested enough of the population.

“We do not really know whether children are more or less likely to acquire COVID-19," Zeichner said, according to an issue brief by SciLine, an independent nonprofit that compiles expert opinions on scientific issues. “If we don’t test everyone, then we won’t detect much asymptomatic disease.”

Florida has ramped up its testing program in recent weeks. About 837,000 tests had been reported in Florida as of Friday. In a state of about 21.5 million people, that figure means that, at most, about 4 percent of the population has been tested.

Doctors around the country have also seen several dozen cases of “multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children,” or MIS-C, a childhood illness associated with the coronavirus. That disease is as mysterious as it is frightening for parents: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advised there is much we don’t know about the illness.

Related: Questions swirl in Florida on the impact of children’s illness tied to coronavirus

Dr. Bonnie White, DeSantis’ family’s pediatrician, sat beside the governor as he made his announcement. She said that MIS-C is “extremely rare.”

White backed the governor’s assessment of the current scientific understanding of the coronavirus. She said that many of her patients have shown symptoms of anxiety and depression because of the months of isolation brought about by statewide shutdowns.

“It’s time for our kids to get back to the new normal, and it’s time to safely allow kids to be kids,” White said.