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DeSantis calls on Raymond James, Tampa General, Publix CEOs for Re-Open Florida task force

Margie Manning



Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Top executives at Raymond James Financial, Tampa General Hospital and Publix Super Markets are among the 22 executive committee members of the Re-Open Florida task force.

The task force executive committee — including Paul Reilly, chairman and CEO of St. Petersburg financial services firm Raymond James (NYSE: RJF), John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General, and Todd Jones, CEO of Publix — are charged with developing recommendations to get the state’s economy back on track.

Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to see their recommendations by Friday afternoon.

Florida has been under a stay-at-home order since April 3 in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19. School buildings and many non-essential businesses are closed, and there are restrictions on public spaces such as beaches or parks. The statewide stay-at-home order is scheduled to continue through Thursday, April 30.

As of Tuesday morning, there have been 27,058 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 823 deaths in Florida. About 653,000 Floridians have filed for unemployment.

Related story: Kriseman, Castor urge caution in reopening local, state economy

DeSantis convened the inaugural session of the task force Monday afternoon. Much of the 90-minute conference call was spent praising the work the state has done to prevent the spread of the virus, with a handful of questions, including one that focused on antibody tests, or tests that look for signs that the immune system has responded to the infection.

“Part of what we have to overcome is the psychology of fear that so many people have about this virus,” said Dale Holness, mayor of Broward County. “It’s real indeed, but I think that if we can get widespread testing for antibodies that are in our system, and make it available so folks can get that testing if they choose to, even if it’s at their cost, that might be able to help us overcome some of that fear that people have. What I’d like to know, governor, is how soon will we have it and how widespread will it be for the community?”

Florida has ordered 100,000 antibody test kits that are scheduled for delivery this week, DeSantis said. Those kits are FDA-approved and specifically identify Covid-19 antibodies, DeSantis said.

John Couris (left), Tampa General Hospital president and CEO, talking with Gov. Ron DeSantis at Tampa General in August 2019

Dr. Scott Rivkees, the state’s surgeon general, cautioned that not all antibody test kits are accurate, prompting a question from Couris, the Tampa General CEO.

“If we need to be careful on what testing we use, should we at some point consider putting out a standard that says this is what you should be doing if you are going to be doing this type of testing? You’re right, there are some systems out there that aren’t as accurate as others. Is that something we should put on the list to consider as we proliferate testing across the state?” Couris asked.

DeSantis indicated he was concerned about faulty tests which might give false negatives, and he urged caution on tests.

“Convenience is important. We want as much convenience as possible, but the last thing we want to do is have a false negative, send someone out into the world and have them spread this around,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, a close political ally of President Donald Trump, also offered a tidbit about rapid test kits made by Abbott Labs.

“The president is real high on it. He has an Abbott machine in the White House. If you go to anything in the White House, you’ve got to get the Abbott five-minute test. In fact, he volunteered to send one to the governor’s office here, so that anyone who comes into our office is going to now need to get it,” DeSantis said, chuckling. “We’ll see what happens on that.”

DeSantis and his chief of staff, Shane Strum, suggested a handful of ideas for the task force. Elective surgeries, which have been put on hold, could resume immediately because the state has been aggressively sourcing personal protective equipment for medical workers and first responders, they said. Hoteliers might test guests before they are allowed to check in. Restaurants might re-open outside dining, or re-open their dining rooms at 25 percent or 50 percent of capacity to maintain social distancing; that likely would require taking reservations, they said.

Florida could set a model for restarting the economy, Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, told members of the task force executive committee.

“The whole world is watching Florida and they are looking for your recommendations,” Wilson said.

Closer look

Here’s the full list of members of the Re-Open Florida task force executive committee.

  • Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, Lieutenant Governor of Florida
  • Jimmy Patronis, Florida Chief Financial Officer
  • Ashley Moody, Florida Attorney General
  • President Bill Galvano, President, Florida Senate
  • Speaker Jose Oliva, Speaker, Florida House of Representatives
  • Senator Wilton Simpson, President-Designate, Florida Senate
  • Representative Chris Sprowls, Speaker-Designate, Florida House of Representatives
  • Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education
  • Jamal Sowell, President & CEO, Enterprise Florida, Inc.
  • Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Mayor, Miami-Dade County
  • Mayor Dale Holness, Mayor, Broward County
  • Mayor David Kerner, Mayor, Palm Beach County
  • John Couris, President & CEO, Tampa General Hospital
  • Josh D’Amaro, President, Walt Disney World Resort
  • Todd Jones, CEO, Publix Super Markets
  • Syd Kitson, Chairman, Board of Governors for the State University System
  • Paul Reilly, Chairman & CEO, Raymond James Financial
  • Alex Sanchez, President & CEO, Florida Bankers Association
  • Eric Silagy, President & CEO, Florida Power & Light Company
  • John Sprouls, CEO, Universal Orlando Resort, Executive Vice President, Universal Parks & Resorts
  • Patrick Sunderlin, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Lockheed Martin Corporation
  • Joe York, President, AT&T Florida and Caribbean

Not included on the list was Nikki Fried, Florida Agriculture commissioner, a member of the Florida cabinet and the only statewide Democratic elected official.

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  1. Avatar

    Patricia Brunson

    April 21, 2020at3:39 pm

    Politics needs to stay out of this. That’s why I’m an independent. Everyone needs to be involved for the safety of the people in Florida. We all voted!!
    What happened to “we the people”?
    Faith not Fear, Praise not predictions, Serve not service.
    Let’s go back to the American way, respect for All.

  2. Avatar

    Cindy White

    April 21, 2020at7:07 pm

    Ya open up so we can be like New York or west losing a lot of lives to many dont care they dont think it true they dont care as I and everyone says we will be in more trouble and a lot more deaths and sickness

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