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Elective surgeries, on-premise restaurant dining are off the table as Florida fights the spread of Covid-19

Margie Manning

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he wants to take sustainable actions to stem the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus.

That’s why, he said, he’s not telling Florida residents to stay home — a move taken by governors in California and New York in the last 24 hours.

“I want to do things that will be followed and effective. If you go too hard, people lose confidence and they rebel against it,” DeSantis said at a late Friday news conference.

Governors have “serious police powers” in emergency situations, he said. “I can issue a mandate, but if local communities don’t want to enforce this, then it’s toothless.”

He issued several executive orders earlier Friday, including closing all gyms and suspending on-premise food consumption at restaurants. Restaurants still can provide take-out or delivery service and sell alcohol with to-go or delivered meals.

Earlier in the week, DeSantis had told restaurants they could continue to serve food on premise but with reduced seating capacity.

“The thought was that maybe they get a little more business, they can stay afloat, and then sometimes families just need a place to go. The vast majority of restaurants abided by the restrictions. Some didn’t. We don’t have time to police that,” he said. “So we’re going to take-out and delivery only, which is somewhat unfortunate because it’s going to be hard for some of these restaurants to survive in this environment.”

He also said he would allow bars that had stocked up for St. Patrick’s Day — the day Florida bars and nightclubs were ordered closed for 30 days — to offload some of that product.

“We’re waiving regulations to allow them to sell it back. Retailers have a big demand for this, so some of these small businesses can do that. They may even get a premium on it because it’s in demand,” DeSantis said.

Another executive order requires hospitals and physicians to stop elective surgeries and unnecessary medical procedures immediately.

“Part of this is you don’t want those elective surgeries to take too much space in the hospital. If there’s a surge, you want to have more beds available,” DeSantis said. “But actually, the more we looked at, much more than even that was just the personal protective equipment. This is in such short supply that we need to make sure all our healthcare providers are saving their PPE and using them for potential Covid-19 patients.”

He wants to continue to increase the availability of tests around the state, but added that needed supplies – such as the swabs used to collect samples – remain difficult to come by.

An emergency bridge loan program to help small businesses suffering adverse financial impacts is moving forward, with the Department of Economic Opportunity approving the first applications. DeSantis said he’s working on a plan to refund room and board to university and college students now taking classes online.

Some elected officials have called on DeSantis to extend deadlines for quarterly tax payments and halt evictions.

He said he was unsure of any specific request, but would look at any action the state could take to get through what he hopes will be a short but difficult period.

“We understand how government policy at the federal, state and local level have caused some of the business interruption here, whether that’s an individual worker or a business. I think we have to look at everything we can to make it as smooth as possible to get on the other side of this,” DeSantis said. “If folks are negatively impacted, I think the least we can do is look to see the lay of the land and how we can help. We have done a bunch of stuff already, but if there’s more to do I’m interested in helping.”

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