For more details on how the stay-home order will be enforced in Palm Coast and Flagler, see the story here.
Speaking from his office shortly after 1 p.m. today, Gov. Ron DeSantis today said he is issuing an executive order requiring all Floridians to stay at home except to seek “essential services” for the next 30 days. The order is a reflection of a sharp turn this week by the White House, acknowledging grim weeks ahead and far more serious measures needed to contain the coronavirus, which now numbers over 200,000 Americans infected and 4,500 deaths in the country.
It makes sense to make this move now,” DeSantis said, citing conversations with White House officials. “That order will be coming out momentarily. It will go into effect tomorrow night, at midnight.” DeSantis was not immediately clear about what defined essential services, but said he would be issuing those clarifications soon. It is also not yet clear whether the order mandates that non-essential businesses must close.
“It’s clear that that represents effectively a national pause,” the governor said, referring to the president’s more sober recent statements: Trump and public health officials on Tuesday estimated that the number of Americans who could die from Covid-19 could range between 100,000 and over 200,000, despite stay-in-place orders. He said the 30-day “pause” the president has talked about was “a signal from the president” to do likewise in Florida, and expand the stay-at-home orders previously in place in South Florida. “With 30 more days, we should do it, and I think that will probably end up making sense. We’ll see. We don’t really know.”
Regarding enforcement, DeSantis was general: “The government can’t hamfist everybody into their bedroom, it’s just not practicable,” he said, but the order does carry the force of law. Law enforcement across the state and in Flagler has taken a light hand regarding enforcement, placing the priority on education first while leaving the door open for harsher measures toward repeat offenders.
As of this morning, there were just under 7,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Florida, with Flagler’s number rising to 20, and one of those now in critical condition, in a hospital in Volusia County. (The case counts as a Flagler number because it affects a resident of Flagler.) According to Department of Health figures, she is one of two hospitalized Flagler residents due to the virus.
An hour before the governor spoke, Palm Coast government held its first virtual town hall today, the mayor, the city manager and the county’s public health director sitting at appropriate distances from each other on the council’s dais as the coronavirus emergency added one more new aspect to local governments’ adaptation to new realities. They discussed potentially stronger stay-in-place orders–not yet aware that the governor would do that for them–when the golf course might reopen, whether the hospital is prepared for a surge of Covid-19 patients, toilet paper and the changing thoughts on wearing masks.
“If you’re fortunate enough to have a mask, wear it,” Bob Snyder, the county’s health department chief, said. “If you don’t have a mask, use a scarf, use a bandana. But what about masks for food preparers and servers? Per the food and drug administration, there is no current evidence that supports the transmission of Covid-19 associated with food or food processing, or food packaging. Anyone preparing food or distributing food should practice social distancing, wear gloves, practice frequent handwashing” and not allowing sick employees to handle or distribute food to the public. “Again, if you have a mask or face-covering, do wear it.”
The one-hour town hall, accessible through YouTube or the city’s Palm Coast Connect app, was hosted by Mayor Milissa Holland, City Manager Matt Morton and Snyder. The city intends to hold virtual town hall meetings weekly, with AdventHealth Palm Coast Chief Operating Officer Wally de Aquino co-hosting next week.
Testing was again an issue. Snyder said the shortages are dictating the current approach, which mandates that testing be limited to people exhibiting symptoms (though it is now becoming clearer that up to 25 percent of people affected with Covid-19 are a-symptomatic: they walk around unknowingly spreading.)
Much of the discussion today reiterated what officials have been saying on almost every public appearance, through media or other virtual town halls (the district’s congressman, Mike Waltz, is hosting his second such meeting later this afternoon, again with Snyder). Some of it clarified existing rules, such as the closure of the city’s 125-miles of trails, which drew a skeptical question from a resident: why close trails when the city has closed off all other avenues of outdoor activity? Holland said it was a matter of consistency. For the same reason, the mayor’s 90/90 fitness challenge was also suspended.
Several issues revolved around the way the public health emergency has upended quality of life habits.
“The only thing we know that works right now, which is why we’re coming to you virtually, is social distancing,” Morton said. “We’re practicing that here. As you’re aware, City Hall has been closed for two weeks. We have the majority of our workforce able and working remotely, heeding our own stay-at-home, stay-safe order and the governor’s order. We’re limiting to essential tasks.” Others have been reassigned to helping residents and departments with essential functions. He said there are virtual art and virtual film contests going on, and other sort of virtual activities, through the city.
The Governor’s Stay-Home Executive Order: