Here’s what Florida seniors need to know about staying home

Who counts as a senior? Can you leave the house? We tried to answer those questions.
A patron exits a Publix supermarket after shopping on Friday, April 3, 2020 in Sun City Center. Governor Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order earlier this week that specifically states seniors "shall" stay at home.
A patron exits a Publix supermarket after shopping on Friday, April 3, 2020 in Sun City Center. Governor Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order earlier this week that specifically states seniors "shall" stay at home. [ LUIS SANTANA | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published April 3, 2020|Updated April 3, 2020

On Friday, an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis pushing all Floridians to stay at home went into effect. The order says senior citizens “shall stay at home" but now it looks like there’s some leeway. We tried to answer your questions about what that means.

Q: What is a senior citizen?

A: Florida statutes define a senior citizen and an elderly person as someone 60 years or older. DeSantis’ order does not address who is considered a senior citizen. But Jeff Johnson, state director for AARP Florida, noted that the Florida Department of Health’s coronavirus website specifies “adults 65 and older” as being more vulnerable.

A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not respond to multiple calls and emails requesting comment Friday. But that evening the governor’s office sent out a document attempting to explain what his orders actually mean.

Q: What does the executive order say about senior citizens?

A: The order specifically says senior citizens and people with significant health issues “shall” stay at home to limit risk of exposure to COVID-19. The order then says all people, regardless of age, should leave the house only when necessary. For more on what is essential, read here.

Q: Wait — so I can’t leave my house? At all?

A: Hold up. You can leave your home, but only to perform essential tasks: buying food and medicine and taking a walk were examples given by the governor’s office. A list of what’s considered essential is available at:

There was confusion over the governor’s order because it used the word “shall." Legal scholars have said that lawmakers shouldn’t even use the word “shall” because it causes so much confusion and invites litigation.

Before the governor’s office offered clarification late Friday, experts told the Tampa Bay Times the order meant anyone 60 or order, or with a significant underlying medical condition, had to stay inside until April 30. But that no longer appears to be the case.

Q: What else are considered essential activities?

A: According to the governor’s office, that includes taking care of pets, recreational activities (while practicing social distancing), walking, biking, fishing, running, swimming, caring for friends and loves ones — and even hunting.

Q: But what if I’m a senior and I have an essential job?

A: That’s still unclear. What the governor’s office did say is that non-essential businesses must close, and those jobs should be done from home whether or not you’re a senior citizen. What counts as an essential business? Again, check

That was another source of confusion about the governor’s order.

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“There are plenty of 65-plus, or whatever line you want to use, medical professionals who are out there, but also all the other essential services who are out there," Johnson said. "Is there an obligation for business owners or employers help those folks stay at home? Should we encourage more physicians who are in that target category … to do telemedicine?”

Q: So what should I do now?

A: You should be as cautious as possible. Seniors should try to rely on delivery to take care of essential tasks such as grocery shopping and refilling prescriptions, said Jay Wolfson, a public health expert at the University of South Florida, in an email to the Times. Those who can’t get or afford delivery from a store or app should seek the help of younger friends, neighbors or relatives.

“It is safe for anybody to bring groceries or other items to the elderly – but keep your distance," Wolfson said. "And wash/disinfect everything you get before you use it.”

Johnson said he hopes grocery stores and delivery companies will waive fees for older customers who need delivery. But he said it’s unrealistic to believe that every senior citizen will be able to stay inside all the time.

“Obviously there are instances where that’s not feasible — if you’ve got to go to a doctor or there’s no one who can get your groceries,” he said.

If you want to be even more cautious and exercise indoors, Wolfson said you can do things like “walking in place and gentle arm pumping” to pushups or yoga. But if you’re going to create a new exercise plan, ease into it and know your limits, he said. Now isn’t the time to take up a rigorous regimen.

Q: What if I violate the governor’s order?

A: DeSantis’ office has said that anyone who violates the order can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.

Q: Why is there extra emphasis on senior citizens?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people over the age of 65 are at high risk of seeing severe effects from coronavirus. An early study on fatality rates from coronavirus in China put the rate at 2.3 percent. For people over the age of 70, the rate was four times as high. For people over the age of 80, the rate was six times as high.

Q: What does the order mean for elderly living facilities and nursing homes?

A: Like they have been for two weeks, nursing homes remain closed to visitation in an effort to protect the elderly residents inside. Employees are considered essential workers and still come to provide care.

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