After resisting pressure to take statewide action, Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for the state Wednesday, joining a growing list of governors ordering residents to stay out of public except for essential needs.
The order allows workers in designated essential industries to continue working and encourages others to work from home. Religious services are exempted, as are activities like helping others, caring for pets and recreation. It bans public gatherings of more than 10 people. The order goes into effect Friday and remains for the rest of the month.
The list of services deemed essential in the order was based on federal Department of Homeland Security guidance and orders already in place in three South Florida counties and includes health care services, pharmacies and grocery stores, among others.
DeSantis had resisted calls from Democrats to issue a statewide order, allowing local officials to decide whether to close beaches, restrict gatherings or close businesses in their areas.
The governor said different levels of detected coronavirus infection in different areas of the state led him to keep from taking statewide action. He thought a statewide order would hurt the economies of areas in the state where the virus hasn’t yet been detected in large numbers, he said. But President Donald Trump’s decision to extend social-distancing guidance through April shifted his calculus.
“People aren’t just going to go back to work. That’s a national pause button,” he said at a Wednesday news conference. "I think that’s a signal from the president that, look, this is what we’re going to be fighting for a month. There’s not going to be any kind of return to normalcy.”
Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said in a statement DeSantis should have acted sooner.
"It is distressing that Governor Ron DeSantis waited until the coronavirus had spread to so many Floridians before finally issuing a statewide stay-at-home order,” Rizzo said. “I hope this will finally slow the rise in infections and that his actions are not too late."
Democratic members of Congress from the state wrote DeSantis last week, calling for statewide action and saying Florida’s elderly population made the state especially vulnerable to deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
With the order, Florida joined 32 other states and the District of Columbia that had issued similar orders by Wednesday morning.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued a similar order Tuesday, though he said at a news conference announcing the order he would not call it “stay-at-home strategy” because that implied people could not leave their homes for any reason.