What does Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ safer at home order mean?

He issued a new executive order that further shuts down the state. Here’s how it’s supposed to work.
Zac Giparas, 28, takes a picture of the COVID-19 update beach closure sign along the sand at North Shore Park on Friday, March 20, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Giparas is a USF grad student currently on spring break. "It's a safety  concern. You gotta do what you can for public safety," he said, regarding an earlier order for the local beaches to close.
Zac Giparas, 28, takes a picture of the COVID-19 update beach closure sign along the sand at North Shore Park on Friday, March 20, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Giparas is a USF grad student currently on spring break. "It's a safety concern. You gotta do what you can for public safety," he said, regarding an earlier order for the local beaches to close. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published April 1, 2020|Updated April 4, 2020

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday announced a stay-at-home order for Floridians. The state was slower than many to take such a strict measure.

Q: When does the order take effect?

A: Friday at 12:01 a.m. It’s supposed to be in place until April 30.

Q: How is this different than the local orders in Pinellas and Hillsborough?

A: The local orders were more permissible in one major way than the new state mandate. In both Pinellas and Hillsborough, non-essential businesses were allowed to stay open if they followed social distancing rules, sticking to groups of 10 or fewer people with customers at least 6 feet apart.

DeSantis’ order shuts that down.

The governor’s office on Friday clarified exactly how in its own Q&A: Businesses that offer non-essential services must close to customers, but they “are encouraged to provide delivery or pickup and to take orders online or by telephone."

The update followed two days of confusion. The original mandate the governor signed did not explicitly instruct non-essential businesses to close but laid out restrictions on who could leave their homes and why. That led to uncertainty, with Pinellas officials interpreting it to mean that thousands of businesses would need to close Friday, including barbershops and car washes, among others.

Meanwhile, Tampa officials seemed to have a different idea. City attorney Gina Grimes said any business could stay open if able to maintain 6 feet of physical distancing between people.

The governor’s office says businesses remaining open do not need a permit or other documentation.

Q: Who has to stay at home?

A: According to the original order, anyone who isn’t going out for essential work or an essential activity (like grocery shopping, more on that below).

But based on the Q&A released by the governor’s office Friday, it would seem workers operating delivery or pick-up at non-essential businesses might also be able to leave. The guidance was not clear.

Residents do not need paperwork to move about, according to the governor, but "some businesses may wish to provide a letter to employees to clarify that their business is indeed an essential service.”

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Q: So I could leave?

A: Yes, for a number of reasons.

The list of essential work is broad, including health care workers, law enforcement, utility workers, journalists, pharmacists, gas station clerks, plumbers, landscapers, weather forecasters and more. The executive order says the state will maintain lists of essential services on the websites of the Florida Department of Health and Florida Division of Emergency Management.

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DeSantis drew on existing breakdowns of essential activities from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Miami-Dade County (which has issued guidelines across several local orders). The lists are long.

Places that can remain open include not just hospitals and grocery stores but hardware stores, pet supply stores, gun stores and laundromats.

Also allowed, according to the executive order: “Caring for or otherwise assisting a loved one or friend” and “Attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship.”

That last one quickly became controversial. Just this week, Hillsborough deputies arrested a pastor who held large in-person services, saying he violated local emergency orders. The county rules said residents had to stay in except when they left to pick up groceries or medicine, exercise or complete essential work that couldn’t be done at home.

DeSantis’ initial order Wednesday was supposed to override local orders only where they were more permissive than the state, meaning Hillsborough’s tighter restrictions would stand. An amendment he quietly signed hours later appeared to go further, superseding any local regulations that conflicted with the executive order. Specifically, the new language read: “This order shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.”

That prompted Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren to write on Twitter that the governor was "usurping local control & forcing us to permit social contact that we don’t want.” DeSantis, in a news conference later Thursday, said he was okay with local authorities issuing stricter standards but did not think officials had the right to completely shut down churches.

Then Friday, his general counsel wrote an email to local government officials saying they were not pre-empted. The goal, lawyer Joe Jacquot wrote, was simply to block local governments from adding businesses to the essential services list that the governor did not want.

“You can use your own authority to close or restrict how any business/organization must comply with your codes,” he wrote. “The Governor’s Order does not give a business/organization any 'right’ to avoid your codes.”

The governor’s Q&A says that “churches, synagogues, or other houses of worship” could hold services but “the Florida Department of Health encourages them” to follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are lengthy but advise consulting with local health officials.

As an example, in Tampa, Grimes said Friday that any religious gathering should not include groups of more than 10 people.

The Q&A also declared that local officials are allowed “to adopt requirements directly on businesses, operations or venues, including buildings, beaches and parks, that may be stricter” than the state order.

Q: What if I’m a senior citizen?

A: Based on the latest explanation from the state, it doesn’t seem like seniors are treated much differently than everyone else. Neither the order nor Q&A define the term “senior," but the most recent guidance is that such residents, along with those with chronic health conditions, “may leave their homes when necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.”

That advice seems to diverge with the plain text of DeSantis’ original order, which read: "Senior citizens and individuals with a significant underlying medical condition (such as chronic lung disease, moderate-to-severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised status, cancer, diabetes, severe obesity, renal failure and liver disease) shall stay at home and take all measures to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

Read more about what we known on the rules for seniors here.

Q: Can I go for a walk?

A: Yes. “Participating in recreational activities (consistent with social distancing guidelines) such as walking, biking, fishing, hunting, running, or swimming” is allowed.

Note that a number of parks across Tampa Bay have already closed.

The order does not list golf specifically, but the Florida State Golf Association says it received confirmation from the governor’s office that the game is considered an “essential recreational activity," as long as people follow recommendations for social distancing.

Q: Can I go on my boat?

A: The state references Miami-Dade County’s boating rules, which have evolved in recent days to shut down marinas and boat launches except for people with commercial saltwater licenses, for fishing purposes only, or law enforcement patrols and rescues. Liveaboards can also have access, or people taking their boats out of the water for maintenance. Read more on the Miami-Dade orders here.

Q: What happens if I don’t listen?

A: The Q&A on Friday said: “Violation of the Governor’s Executive Order is a second-degree misdemeanor,” which could be enforced by law enforcement.

That was a clarification from earlier in the week, when the governor said he didn’t know but the state would "figure out on the back end how this will work out.”

The executive order says local authorities are responsible for breaking up groups of more than 10 people. “A social gathering in a public space is not an essential activity,” the order reads.

Q: Does this change anything with restaurants?

A: The orders issued earlier by the state, instructing restaurants to close or move to take-out or delivery only, remain in effect. The latest update says: “All businesses or organizations are encouraged to provide delivery, carry-out or curbside service outside of the business or organization, of orders placed online or via telephone, to the greatest extent practicable.”

Q: Can I still work from home?

A: Yes. In fact, the state encourages it.

Times staff writers Mimi Andelman, Steve Contorno, Mark Puente, Josh Solomon, Dan Sullivan, Divya Kumar and Tony Marrero contributed to this report.

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