DeSantis makes right calls on closing schools, opening elder care records | Editorial
Re-opening schools wasn’t worth the risk, and the public deserves to know which nursing homes have patients or staff with confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces Saturday that schools should remain closed through the rest of the academic year.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces Saturday that schools should remain closed through the rest of the academic year. [ The Florida Channel ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published April 19, 2020

Gov. Ron DeSantis made the right calls over the weekend by announcing public schools should remain closed for the academic year and ordering the release of the names of elder care facilities that have confirmed cases of COVID-19. That resolves two lingering issues that distracted from the challenges ahead. It also clears the way for an advisory group the governor will appoint Monday to recommend a way forward for Florida that should balance protecting public health with gradually reopening the economy.

DeSantis provided parents clarity Saturday by announcing schools would remain closed. There was no reason to keep debating this issue when it is clear social distancing will continue long past the scheduled end of classes. It’s better to continue to concentrate on virtual learning now and start focusing on a variety of options for the fall as the battle to contain the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold.

The governor listened to school district superintendents who had questioned the benefit of reopening the schools for a few weeks. Miami-Dade school superintendent Alberto Carvalho tweeted that “a physical return to schools this year is not only unlikely but imprudent.” Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning warned that the worst outcome would be to try to create some sense of normalcy by reopening the schools only to have that decision help trigger a new surge in coronavirus cases. The district superintendents know best about what it would have taken to reopen schools.

At least two dozen states already have decided to keep schools closed for the rest of the academic year, and it was clear Florida needed to do the same. The focus for the remaining few weeks should be to continue to improve learning from home. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Marlene Sokol reported Sunday, even students with laptops and internet access are unexpectedly struggling in this new environment, needing help dealing with basics such as downloading documents or uploading a photo. While it’s frustrating for all, these are the basic skills students will need as they prepare for college and the workplace.

DeSantis also made the right decision by reversing course and directing state officials to release the names of nursing homes and other elder care facilities where patients and employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the governor’s efforts to protect those patients by shutting public access to the facilities last month, too many of them have become clusters for the virus. The public deserves to know which facilities have confirmed cases, and the state’s refusal to release the names was going to be challenged in a public records lawsuit expected to be filed by the Miami Herald and supported by other news organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times.

After the governor’s decision, the state released the names of more than 100 facilities, including 25 in Pinellas, four in Hillsborough and two in Pasco. The state also should release how many cases of the virus have been confirmed in each facility, how many are residents and how many are staff, and how many deaths have occurred.

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