A reason why Florida hasn’t shut down? Nobody from White House task force said so, DeSantis says.

For the first time since the the coronavirus reached Florida a month ago, DeSantis held the news conferences where members of the Capitol press corps could follow social distancing precautions.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is seen during a news conference Tuesday, March 31, 2020.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is seen during a news conference Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [ The Florida Channel ]
Published March 31, 2020|Updated April 1, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday said he had no plans to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, partly because he says he hasn’t been told to do so by the White House task force.

UPDATE: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issues statewide stay-at-home order

More than 30 states and the District of Columbia have already enacted such restrictions.

During a news conference in Tallahassee, DeSantis was asked about a Times/Herald story that reported an epidemiologist advising the White House had told Florida’s top health official on Monday to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.

Ali Mokdad, a professor at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health and Metrics Evaluation, told the Times/Herald that he told DeSantis’ Surgeon General, Scott Rivkees, that the state should issue a blanket stay-at-home order mandating the closure of non-essential businesses and social distance to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

DeSantis expressed surprise about the story, which had been published Tuesday hours before his news conference.

“Who recommended that?” he asked the reporter.

After given more explanation, DeSantis said he has heard no such direction from anyone with the White House Task force team.

“I’m in contact with (the White House task force) and I’ve said, are you recommending this?” DeSantis said. “The task force has not recommended that to me. If they do, obviously that would be something that carries a lot of weight with me. If any of those task force folks tell me that we should do X, Y or Z, of course we’re going to consider it. But nobody has said that to me thus far.”

That deference to the White House was later applauded by President Donald Trump, who lauded DeSantis, a close political ally.

When asked if Florida needed to issue a blanket order, Trump replied that DeSantis is a “great governor who knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Social distancing in action

For the first time since the the novel coronavirus reached Florida a month ago, DeSantis held the news conference where members of the Capitol press corps could follow social-distancing precautions.

On Tuesday, DeSantis shifted his evening news conferences to the Cabinet meeting room, where reporters could sit six feet apart. Video journalists, however, chose to stand bunched together behind their cameras just inches away from each other.

For weeks, DeSantis has been hosting news conferences in the state emergency operations center or in his office, with both venues requiring reporters to cram into a small room together.

Reporters from the Times/Herald have been asking for a venue that complies with social distancing measures, like governors in other states have done. On March 20, top editors of the Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times, el Nuevo Herald, Bradenton Herald, Palm Beach Post, Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel made the same request of DeSantis’ office, with no response.

On Saturday, the issue came to a head when the governor’s office barred the Times/Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas from that afternoon’s news conference, which was held in a larger conference room in the Capitol rather than the governor’s office. A governor’s spokeswoman told Klas she was barred because she had requested social distancing.

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A number of journalists’ organizations were outraged by the exclusion, and the Florida Society of News Editors sent a letter to the governor on Saturday requesting a change of venue.

When the governor announced Tuesday’s meeting would be held in the Cabinet room, the First Amendment Foundation of Florida thanked him.

“We commend the governor for recognizing the critical role of the press and the importance of maintaining the public’s trust in times of crisis,” the First Amendment Foundation said.

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