After mounting local and national pressure, fueled by the rapid spread of the coronavirus in Florida’s hardest-hit counties and beyond, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Wednesday mandating that people across the state stay home, except when seeking or providing essential services.
DeSantis said that under the order, which goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. April 3, individuals are asked only to leave the home for essential services or activities for the next 30 days. DeSantis said the order is targeted to individual residents, and is not mandating non-essential businesses to shut down entirely.
One exception to that order? Religious activities. The order allows “attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship,” which puts it in direct conflict with Hillsborough County, who earlier this week arrested a Hillsborough pastor for conducting an in-person church service with hundreds of parishioners despite the county’s “Safer-At-Home” order.
The order reads: “In concert with the efforts of President Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force to fight COVID-19, and based on guidance provided by Florida Surgeon General and State Health Officer, Dr. Scott Rivkees, all persons in Florida shall limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.”
DeSantis had previously described a statewide order as “a very blunt instrument,” despite its use in states around the country to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. He received a letter signed by 13 members of Congress, including Rep. Charlie Crist, Rep. Kathy Castor and Rep. Val Demmings, asking him to take the step of issuing a statewide order. He has also faced mounting pressure from local officials across Florida, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
In response to DeSantis’ order Wednesday, Kriseman told the St. Pete Catalyst, “As it relates to the governor’s actions today, I’d say better late than never, but being late may have catastrophic consequences for our residents and our health care system. I am glad he heeded our call for statewide uniformity and urge all residents of our city and state to remain safer at home.”
“We appreciate your recent announcement that you will be issuing a ‘safer-at-home’ order for the southern portion of the state, and will apply this order to Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe counties through the middle of April,” the letter stated. “Given that there are over 5,000 positive cases of COVID-19 in Florida, with the Department of Health reporting 523 new positive cases on Sunday, this order should be applied to the entire state immediately in order to effectively slow the spread of COVID-19. This pandemic has not respected global borders, so it certainly will not respect county borders.”
DeSantis has long resisted making such an order. In a news conference last week, he stated that the order would be “[C]onsigning … probably hundreds of thousands of Floridians to lose their jobs.”
“You’re throwing their lives potentially into disarray, and if that were something necessary statewide because the health comes first, that would be one thing. But if you look at Florida’s situation right now, this is not a virus that’s impacting every corner of the state,” he said last week.
The Florida Department of Health reported nearly 7,000 cases of Covid-19 as of noon Wednesday. Nearly 900 new cases have been reported in each of the past three days. Currently, more than 900 people are hospitalized and there have been 87 deaths.
The order outlines what are considered essential businesses and services based on guidance from the Department of Homeland Security. DeSantis said he would also include some services like veterinary care, pet food supply stores and others that were included in Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez’s order earlier this week.
Read the full order here.