Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state will move into a “full Phase 1” reopening starting Monday.
That means gyms, which have until now been excluded from the partial reopening that started May 4, can open at 50 percent capacity. Restaurants, retail shops, museums and libraries, which had been allowed to serve people at a quarter of their inside capacity, can now also serve patrons at 50 percent. Counties can apply to the state to allow vacation rentals. Even theme parks have been told to plan reopening, DeSantis said, by having their operators submit a safety plan to the state.
Intermission for movie theaters, however, continues. Although they were included in the White House guidelines for Phase 1 reopening, movie theaters won’t reopen Monday, DeSantis said.
During a Friday afternoon news conference in Jacksonville, DeSantis continued to pair his upbeat interpretation of COVID-19 testing data with an urgent warning that the state’s economy can ill afford further social isolation.
“The American people never signed up for a perpetual shelter in place,” DeSantis said at the news conference.
For months, officials across the state had closed businesses in the hopes of slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. DeSantis, citing recent hospitalization and testing figures, argued those efforts have proven successful.
After DeSantis spoke Friday, it didn’t take some gym owners long to plan for the return of business. Powerhouse Athletic Club Tampa co-owner John Sanguinetti said he’d welcome back members as soon as possible.
“[DeSantis] said Monday, so we’re opening up Monday morning at 12:01,” he said. “We will be the first one in the Tampa Bay region.”
The gym’s staff members will wear masks and make sure machines are sanitized. Water fountains, the sauna, the kids center and tanning booths will remain closed.
Sanguinetti is confident that Monday’s return will be a success. Within 90 minutes after DeSantis’ announcement, his gym received more than 200 phone calls from members, he said.
So far, the state has reported more that 43,000 cases of COVID-19, and more than 1,900 deaths related to the virus, placing it around the middle of the pack of the 50 states when weighted for population.
Miami Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties were phased into initial re-opening after the rest of the state. A spokeswoman for DeSantis confirmed that those three counties would be included in this most recent round of openings.
Before announcing the Phase 1 reopening, DeSantis said the state would rigorously fight the spread of COVID-19 in assisted living facilities. He rattled off statistics about state-provided personal protective equipment in the facilities, and said that long term care workers should be tested regularly.
But the young and healthy should get back to as normal a life as possible, DeSantis said. He argued that when a young person contracts the virus, the disease is much less likely to hospitalize or kill them than an older person.
“If you have 1,000 people who are healthy in their 20s get it, you’re going to have less clinical significance of that than if you have 100 people who are 85 and plus in a nursing home,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis has long maintained that Floridians need recreation to stave off fear and depression during the long months of coronavirus-induced economic shutdowns. On Wednesday, he urged professional sports teams to come to Florida to practice and play games. And his Friday executive order officially announcing the full Phase 1 reopening said Florida policy would preempt any local bans on professional sports.
DeSantis also stressed the importance of gyms. Those who are fit, he said, were less likely to get sick.
Aaron Hanna, the part owner of two CrossFit gyms in Pinellas County, kept his businesses afloat the past two months in part by loaning out his gym’s equipment, he told the Times. To him, DeSantis’ announcement meant people who had gotten used to the confines of a gym and the training there could get back to a normal — albeit socially distanced — routine.
However, Hanna noted that the protracted shutdown is likely to affect his industry permanently.
"I know there’s a lot of smaller gyms, or newer gyms or not as established gyms that are not reopening anymore because it’s gone on so long,” Hanna said.
DeSantis’ reopening announcement didn’t convince everyone it's safe to return.
“Not going back,” said Tampa resident Aaron K. Campbell. “And honestly would probably cancel my membership if the gym I go to is irresponsible enough to open while numbers are still generally going up in terms of cases and infections.”
According to a New York Times analysis, 14 states have already allowed at least some athletic centers to reopen. Florida is about twice as populous as the next largest state to have made that policy decision. Of the states that have reopened gyms, all but one, Montana, have Republican governors.
DeSantis has faced criticism — and even mockery — for his reopening strategy in recent days. A Thursday headline from the satirical newspaper “The Onion" read, “Florida Governor Deploys National Guard To Force Residents Back Into Malls, Movie Theaters.” He’s also been showered with praise, appearing on a gauntlet of Fox News programs like he did Thursday on Fox & Friends.
DeSantis contended again Friday that his approach has been data-driven. Intensive care unit COVID-19 hospitalizations have gone down since the May 4 reopening, DeSantis said. Until a recent run of prison outbreaks, the rate of positive tests had been steadily declining, he said. Testing capacity had outpaced demand in parts of the state, he noted.
Over the last week, Florida has announced an average of 40 new deaths per day, a number that has remained largely flat since mid-April. The rate is down from the previous week, which may have been inflated by a sudden announcement of dozens of deaths, some that were up to six weeks old.
Times staff writer Langston Taylor contributed to this story.
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