As the number of coronavirus cases rise in Florida and Tampa Bay, state and local officials should avoid an emotional response and be clear-eyed about the impact of further restrictions. There are a number of variables to consider before issuing sweeping stay-at-home orders, and while public health ranks at the top the impact of further restrictions on families, businesses and the economy cannot be ignored. This new normal is going to evolve over months rather than days, and a knee-jerk reaction to the news of the minute could have more severe long-term consequences than any potential benefit.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has been unfairly criticized on cable news and social media for his methodical approach to gradually implementing statewide restrictions as governors in New York, California and Illinois have issued sweeping stay-at-home orders. In fact, Florida’s governor has struck a reasonable balance. He has spoken regularly and frankly to Floridians about expanding testing and acquiring medical supplies, and he has appropriately expressed concern about overbearing, statewide restrictions that would impact the physical and mental health of families and inflict more harm on a state economy that already is being devastated. "You simply cannot lock down our society indefinitely with no end in sight,'' DeSantis said Monday afternoon.
It’s understandable that Miami-Dade and Broward counties have implemented more restrictions than Tampa Bay and the rest of the state. South Florida has the largest concentration of coronavirus cases, which have climbed to more than 1,100 statewide. But some 20 Florida counties do not have a single case. DeSantis said Monday that test kits are becoming more available and test sites are expanding, so the number of reported cases will continue to rise.
Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissioners, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman should proceed with caution as they consider whether to issue stay-at-home orders. Bars and restaurants are closed. Schools and universities are closed. State parks and beaches are closed. Employees of many businesses are working from home. Where is the data that would justify tougher restrictions that would surely leave more families without paychecks and could create more panic and hoarding? How would more restrictions be more effective than continuing to promote social distancing?
If Tampa Bay officials are determined to implement more local restrictions on businesses and movement, it would have to be a regional approach. Thousands of residents each day commute between Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Even more unworkable would be a situation where the Hillsborough County Commission decides against a stay-at-home order and Castor decides to impose one in the city of Tampa. This is one community, and there has to be one set of rules.
It’s natural that county commissioners and mayors feel pressure to take more action. This is uncharted territory, and there is not nearly enough leadership, vision or help coming from Washington. The governors, mayors and local officials are doing their best to fill the void. But their decisions have long-term consequences, and they should act on facts rather than emotion. And if they enact a stay at home order, they should be crystal clear with the public about the specific details.
Of course, the best way for Tampa Bay to avoid more sweeping government restrictions is for residents to act responsibly. Follow the existing restrictions. Practice social distancing. Don’t hoard food and supplies. Be particularly mindful of the elderly and other vulnerable populations. Getting through this pandemic will require a collective effort. The more Floridians meet their individual obligations for the common good, the less need there will be for more sweeping government intervention.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news