“He’s trying to take a measured approach. We just have to hope and pray that as we do this that our (positive COVID-19 case) numbers won’t go up significantly.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis’s plan to reopen Florida starting Monday is a reasonable one, Okaloosa County Commissioner Graham Fountain said.
“He’s trying to take a measured approach,” which matches the county’s, Fountain said. “We just have to hope and pray that as we do this that our (positive COVID-19 case) numbers won’t go up significantly.”
Fountain and Commission Chairman Trey Goodwin both expressed agreement with DeSantis’ cautious approach and said the county intends on following the governor’s reopening plan without branching off from it.
Maintaining social distancing is a big part of phase I of the governor’s reopening plan, which he announced Wednesday afternoon before officially releasing his latest executive order to the public.
In Phase I, restaurant customers will be able to enjoy outdoor seating, while restaurants’ indoor capacity will be limited to 25%.
Various retail stores that have been shuttered for more than a month also will be allowed to open with 25% capacity.
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Movie theaters, bars, gyms, hair salons and other businesses offering personal services will remain closed, visitors still will not be allowed at long-term care facilities and nursing homes, and distance learning will continue for schools.
There is no set timeline on when the less-restrictive Phase II would begin. The first phase excludes Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, each of which has been slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think letting the restaurants open at 25% capacity and retail at 25% capacity is healthy, as long as people continue social distancing,” Fountain said. “I get the impression that once more testing becomes available, people can visit their family members in the nursing homes.”
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The governor’s plan won’t please everybody, Fountain said.
“We hear from people who don’t think we should open anything up,” he said. “But we can’t keep our economy closed for months and months and months. I think one of the things the governor really hit home about was … Florida just wasn’t as bad as expected.
“I hope within a week or two, businesses can open at an even greater capacity. I hope we keep progressing so we can get folks back to work.”
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Goodwin said one part of the governor’s plan speaks the loudest to local government: Local jurisdictions are to ensure there are no groups of more than 10 people in a public space unless that space is adequate to meet social distancing requirements.
“That means our parks, beaches, administration building, conference center” and other facilities and areas, Goodwin said. “We have to administer that, to spread groups out and people out. That’s something we’ve done already at our commission meetings, and we will continue to do that for this phase and subsequent phases until it’s no longer state law.”
Overall, he said, “It looks like the governor is taking a very similar approach as Okaloosa County: Let’s take very limited action, formulate the next step and be very cautious.”
Goodwin said local residents have expressed some “very polarized opinions” on what county officials should be doing for its citizenry, with the status of local beaches a main topic.
The Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier and beaches in the county’s jurisdiction will be open, starting Friday, from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily. With the exception of Henderson Beach State Park, beaches in Destin will return to being open from dawn to dusk starting Friday.
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County staff is working on a plan to further reopen the pier, possibly back to its normal 24-hours-a-day availability, and to fully open the beaches in the county’s jurisdiction from sunrise to sunset starting Saturday, May 9. The commission plans to consider that plan on Tuesday.
The pier and beaches in Destin and the unincorporated area have been closed since late March as a way to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The number of locals who want the beaches reopened with regular hours faster is about the same as the number of folks who think opening any beaches in May is a bad idea, Goodwin said.
DeSantis left the opening and closing of local beaches up to local officials.