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DeSantis seizes ‘opportunity’ to spur road projects with stay at home order

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By John Haughey | The Center Square

After resisting calls to impose a statewide stay-at-home order for weeks, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday ended a national will-he-or-won’t-he debate by saying he will – effective 12:01 a.m. Friday and lasting through April 30.

When President Donald Trump extended federal COVID-19 guidelines for social distancing and public gatherings on Sunday, DeSantis said he realized, “It makes sense to make this move now,” and decided to impose a statewide stay-at-home order for nonessential activities.

“I think it is, in a sense, effectively a national pause. We are going to be in this for another 30 days,” he said. “Based on that, given those circumstances, I am issuing an executive order today directing all Floridians to limit movements and personal interactions outside the home to only essential activities.”

In addition to addressing the immediate COVID-19 crisis, DeSantis said officials are asking, “What can we do to lessen the economic damage? What are the things we can do now to encourage economic development?”

One answer, he said, is obvious.

“One of the things that struck me, the traffic, not as many people on the roads,” DeSantis said. “Traffic isn’t what it was. You can really make progress on some projects.”

Therefore, he said, the state will direct $2.1 billion into accelerating road projects in West Palm Beach, Orlando, Tampa and Miami over the next month.

DeSantis has withstood weeks of furious criticism by public-health experts and Democrats for not issuing a statewide stay-at-home order, not only in Florida but across the country.

On Sunday, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted, “Florida is at risk of becoming major epicenter of epidemic spread of #COVID19 in the coming weeks” across the nation because “the state was slow to implement mitigation steps and probably exported a lot of its infection.”

University of Washington professor Ali Mokdad and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci are among White House coronavirus task force members who advised DeSantis to issue a shutdown.

DeSantis was lambasted on "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" and "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" for “scapegoating” New Yorkers for spreading COVID-19 while many of the Sunshine State’s beaches remained open. On Wednesday, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told NBC’s “Today” that DeSantis should view the federal guidelines as “a national stay-at-home order.”

DeSantis still expressed doubts that a statewide stay-at-home order is necessary because large swaths of Florida remain relatively unaffected by COVID-19 and already under local orders.

“I don’t necessarily view that as the same solution for the entire state,” he said. “But I felt with 30 more days” ordered by Trump “we should just do it. That was a national pause button. At this point, I think even though there’s a lot of places in Florida that have very low infection rates, it makes sense to make this move now. We find ourselves in a situation where we have a national pause and we need to deal with this, front-and-center, and then figure out, in the back end, how to get out.”

The state will follow Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines in defining what an essential activity is and many of the guidelines installed by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez in his stay-at-home order, DeSantis said.

Among those nuances, “Pets and taking care of pets is an essential activity. We understand how important that is for folks,” he said.

As of Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health reported 6,955 COVID-19 cases in the state – including 87 deaths – and 890 hospitalizations.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 4,716 deaths in the U.S., with more than 211,00 confirmed cases in the country. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.

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