Popular tourist places like Melbourne Beach have emptied out over the past month of the coronavirus outbreak, dragging down Florida’s economy. (Dylan O'Shea/WUFT News)

Florida Governor’s Task Force Lays Out Phases Of State’s Reopening Timeline

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A plan is in place to reopen Florida and shock its economy back to life amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Reopen Florida Task Force held a conference call on Tuesday to announce the plan and introduce the task force members to the public. DeSantis said it is appropriate to begin re-opening the state’s economy because of how well Florida’s healthcare system –his main concern – has handled the pandemic. He said there are only about 2,000 hospitalizations statewide.

Because the healthcare system has yet to be overwhelmed, DeSantis said, the task force was created to hone in on the governor’s No. 2 priority, which is stimulating the economy.

The task force will meet every day this week to address different areas of Florida commerce.

Dana Young, president and chief executive of Visit Florida, is leading the task force with a focus on the hospitality industry, which was the area of concern for Tuesday’s meeting.

“Our mission has never been more important than it is today,” she said. “We’re developing a rebound strategy that supports all sectors for the tourism industry, in delivering travelers to Florida as the stay-at-home restrictions ease and people regain confidence to travel again.”

Young said the state’s plan to “inspire confidence” in consumers is cut into four phases.

Phase one – the stage Florida is currently in – is about waiting for Florida to reopen and inform the public on hospitality progress.

The stay-at-home and social distancing orders are still being enforced, and only essential employees are allowed to be regularly outside of their homes.

Phase two will go into effect when DeSantis lifts the stay-at-home order. The task force will then promote in-state travel and vacations, with hotels and restaurants being the target industries.

Phase three will call on domestic and international travelers to flock to Florida. Beaches and other tourism spots should have little restrictions.

Young said phase four, the final stage in the task force’s plan to re-open the state and something akin to what the state looked like two months ago, will “keep Florida the top travel destination” for tourists.

Prioritizing industries where social distancing is impossible is dangerous, but DeSantis and Young said Florida can’t afford to wait weeks and months to resume activity.

Young said the time is now to assist Florida’s tourism, food and hotel industries – the “most restricted and heavily impacted” businesses in the state.

The hospitality industry pulls in more money annually than any other section of commerce in Florida. Young said the hospitality industry accounts for 38.5% of Florida’s GDP and a slightly higher percentage of jobs in the state.

Central Florida’s hottest tourism spots – Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld – are losing millions of dollars a day due to COVID-19 closures.

Disney is losing about $38 million per day, while Universal and SeaWorld are being sapped of $10.79 million and $1.78 million, respectively.

Florida’s food industry, one of the three most impacted businesses due to COVID-19, has been hurt as well.

Chief executives Jose Cil, of Restaurants International and Tim Petrillo, of The Restaurant People, said they’re losing money and employees because of inactivity in the food industry.

Petrillo said the main issue with reopening his 70 restaurants is getting his employees back. He said most of his furloughed workers moved out of state after losing their jobs.

The Restaurant People chief executive had to lay off 95% of his workers.

Another consequence of an inactive food industry is failing agriculture. As of now, Florida has experienced $522 million in crop losses. State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was notably left off the task force and the lone statewide elected Democrat has become a consistent critic of the governor’s response to the pandemic.

People aren’t going to supermarkets to buy as many groceries, and restaurants aren’t purchasing as many goods as they used to.

While Florida is struggling to keep money circulating during this period of economic activity, Young said it’s still DeSantis’ call as to when the state opens back up.

Until then, and throughout the process, Young said she remains hopeful Florida’s residents will overcome this difficult time.

“Our marketing will aim to invoke a sense of ‘Florida Pride,’ reminding Floridians they are blessed to live in one of the top vacation areas of the world,” she said. “We think Floridians will respond positively, especially since there is an existing drive to support Florida businesses. This will tap into this concept of state patriotism that Floridians already have in abundance.”

About Dylan O'Shea

Dylan is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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