Florida Is Open for Business, But Is It Safe?

September 25, 2020, 5:02 PM · Florida is open for business now, the state's governor said today. But will that cause the tourists who drive the state's economy to come calling — or help ensure that they continue to stay away?

Florida Governor Ron ("Leeroy Jenkins") DeSantis* today issued an executive order moving the state into Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which is basically "open for business." The order prohibits communities in the state from closing businesses due to Covid-19, allows bars and restaurants across the state to operate at full capacity, and prevents communities from collecting fines from people who violate mandatory mask and other Covid-related orders.

If a local government wants to continue to restrict a restaurant's capacity, it can no longer restrict that below 50 percent and must "quantify the economic impact of each limitation or requirement on those restaurants; and explain why each limitation or requirement is necessary for public health." And if a local government wants to maintain a mandatory mask order, it no longer has any way to enforce that.

For what it's worth, Florida saw 2,847 new Covid cases today, with 120 deaths — raising the state's seven-day average fatality rate above 100 per day. Yes, that's down from the state's peak, but what happens when you remove the physical distancing and mask requirements that scientists pretty much unanimously now say help reduce the virus' spread?

It's not like Sars-CoV-2 has disappeared from the state. Will potential tourists want to visit Florida if the state of Florida is no longer doing anything to protect the people who live and visit there from Covid-19?

While communities no longer can enforce mask orders with fines or keep restaurants from operating at less than half capacity, private businesses still have the right to do what they want. Disney and Universal still can deny you entry or throw you out of their theme parks for not wearing a mask. And they can continue to limit capacities as they see fit.

But I cannot imagine that Disney (or Universal) is happy with Gov. DeSantis' order today. Disney this week hosted an online press event trying to convince the public that it is safe to visit Walt Disney World. But is it safe to visit Florida?

Granted, Disney has done its best to enable guests to visit the Walt Disney World resort without setting foot outside in the "rest of Florida." You can fly into Orlando International Airport, board your Disney's Magical Express bus to your hotel on site at the resort, spend your vacation on Disney property, then take the Magical Express straight back to the airport when you're done. All the while, Disney's mandatory mask and physical distancing requirements apply.

However, all those cast members that you will encounter during your stay live in that "rest of Florida" — as do many of the other guests you will share airspace with at the parks. Disney has been pushing local officials' reports that no transmissions of the virus have been traced to exposure inside theme parks. But will that remain the case after the state of Florida declares the crisis is over and quits trying to anything to reduce the virus' spread within the state?

Why would DeSantis do this? Well, the governor has downplayed the Covid-19 crisis from the start, famously mocking reporters who warned that Florida's case rate could rival New York's. (Which, eventually, it did.) Today's order prohibits local governments from closing businesses due to Covid. If businesses don't close, that means their employees can't file for unemployment, taking pressure off the state's budget. If long-time employees quit out of concern for their health, that allow businesses to replace them with cheaper new hires. So life becomes cheaper for both the state and its businesses.

It's a great plan for DeSantis... assuming that the public no longer sees Covid as a threat and will take this opportunity to head out to Florida's bars, restaurants, theme parks, and other tourist attractions. But for those who look at the numbers and see cases rising nationwide over the past couple weeks, with a troubling post-Labor Day uptick in the past couple of days, DeSantis' bravado frightens rather than impresses.

To boost their attendance and income, Disney, Universal, and Central Florida's theme parks need the public to believe in the safety of visiting not just their parks, but in visiting Florida to get to them. Having the state and the parks on the same page, with the same messaging, about promoting health and safety might help more potential visitors feel that way. But, clearly, that's not happening.

*Full credit to @stilwell on Twitter for the Leeroy Jenkins joke.

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Replies (24)

September 25, 2020 at 6:38 PM

In the top 3 states for number of daily infections and 100+ daily deaths

And to celebrate our collective accomplishment, bars and restaurants to 100%!

September 25, 2020 at 6:51 PM

It’ll take maybe a month for the numbers to show what open bars and no masks will create havoc.

September 25, 2020 at 7:07 PM

Well that'll cut very short my return to the parks if capacity is raised, and masks become optional.

I hope the parks see sense, but you know pressure will now come from the masses who, for the majority, want to see a no mask policy.

Looks like I'll be back to fishing the beaches for dinner again ... :) LOL !!!

September 25, 2020 at 8:30 PM

You asked why would DeSantis do this?
It’s simple, his head his so far up Trump’s butt he knows nothing else.

September 25, 2020 at 9:40 PM

A couple things to consider here...

1. Just because businesses can do it, that doesn't mean that they will do it. I have confidence Disney, Universal, and other similar tourism-related businesses will probably maintain their excellent standards. Other places, well...we'll see what happens.

2. While Florida's numbers aren't great, they are nowhere near as bad as they were months back, and currently the state is better than about half those in the country (though that also means they're worse than half).

3. Somewhere has to be first, and watching what happens here will be very telling. If Florida explodes, it will confirm they're just as foolish as they appear. However, if their numbers remain steady or even decrease, it might encourage other states to stop being excessively extreme with their restrictions.

Granted, I do wish this wasn't happening until after my planned visit to the state in a couple weeks, and while I don't think it's a good idea yet (they really should have waited until cases were below 10 per 100K to try it), I'm not 100% against it either.

September 25, 2020 at 10:25 PM

Illinois in Phase 4 for some time so it can be handled well...but then, we were also shut down for two solid months before slowly phasing in and even then risks of spikes. So fingers crossed but given this state's crummy track record handling this, so much danger.

September 25, 2020 at 11:52 PM

This decision doesn't have anything to do with the parks as Florida and local governments basically treat the parks with an honor system when it comes to regulations. They never put any real restrictions on the parks in the first place.

I don't know exactly what motivated this, whether it be politics, economics, or both, but I do know its a bad idea. I don't claim to be an expert on the coronavirus but I do know the "bar crowd" doesn't care about it and its restrictions, especially in the south. A couple months ago I went to pickup an order from Rocco's Tacos in Dr. Phillips (right down the street from UO) and the place was packed with no one wearing masks. This was with restrictions on restaurants and gatherings in place. It was not long after that that the government started clamping down on bars.

There will definitely be a huge rise in cases.

September 26, 2020 at 1:15 AM

@the_man: Yeah, it's obvious how some folks in other states take it differently. My area of Illinois pretty strong, a few places requiring temp checks even for outdoor dining area and I've seen them turn away folks not wearing masks. When driving through Indiana to Michigan for Labor Day weekend, saw clear differences in attitudes. It sadly seems too many lean toward "just the flu" or "learn to live with it" rather than take simpler precautions which won't help.

September 26, 2020 at 1:57 AM

No doubt that more folks will get sick (and some will die) due to the Governor's covidiocy.

On the other hand, now I know what "Leeroy Jenkins" means.

September 26, 2020 at 7:13 AM

I challenge DeSantis and Trump to go meet their masses of supporters with no masks and no testing and be in the middle of them everyday for the next month. Let’s see how that experiment works out!

September 26, 2020 at 10:37 AM

"Ron ("Leeroy Jenkins") DeSantis" is the first thing Covid-related that made me laugh in six months.

It was an involuntary reaction, because I worry about the consequences of pretending more progress has been made than actually has. I am concerned for how some will react (far too many people already act like the pandemic is "over" or "nothing to worry about") so DeSantis saying "we're open for business again: could very well make that worse.

September 27, 2020 at 9:07 AM

I am no saint. I’ve congregated in a group without a mask. I wanted to say that first.

Do I think masks should be required? Absolutely! This is the biggest issue. Government officials (under Republican control) do not appear to grasp science. If they would require masks in public, this would do so much. It’s troubling for private businesses that still require masks. Publix has to enforce it, without help from the government. The Parks as well.

After visiting the Parks in July, I honestly believe they may be one of the safest locations in the country.

September 27, 2020 at 8:41 PM

Robert you mentioned that businesses wouldn't have to pay their employees for unemployment if they were open for business, however in other states, one can still file for unemployment due to lack of work. I was wondering if this is the complete opposite for FL?

September 27, 2020 at 11:53 PM

Working at a major central “Florida Hospital” for 18 years and in billing and coding......the positive number of cases and deaths has been greatly and falsely increased and those numbers have been released to the media and the public. Take that however you will, but things are not what is “officially” being presented to the public.

September 28, 2020 at 6:11 AM

Time will tell whether this is a justifiable risk to kickstart the Floridan economy and protect jobs and businesses or utter lunacy. People will not have to wait too long to find out either way.

September 28, 2020 at 11:33 AM

Troy you seem to be alleging fraud - I hope you can back that up for your sake!

September 28, 2020 at 3:02 PM

Tiptop22 - Troy is not alleging fraud, simply stating the facts. Take a look at the below link, which shows what insurers are covering. There is a strong incentive for a majority of stakeholders (other than insurers) to make sure things are coded as COVID...

https://www.ahip.org/health-insurance-providers-respond-to-coronavirus-covid-19/

September 28, 2020 at 3:37 PM

Your link doesn’t provide anything to his reference - “the positive number of cases and deaths has been greatly and falsely increased “. He implies that there are miscodings for obtaining reimbursed $ related toCovid deaths. Let him be more specific if that’s not true and yes that is fraud!

September 28, 2020 at 4:46 PM

The "good" news is, there are in all likelihood few people left in Florida that will engage in risky activities and have not been infected already. The bad news is, current cases alone might be enough to put the death toll above 40000. (400k*0,04 for active cases+ confirmed death)*1,5 to correct for under counting.

September 28, 2020 at 6:25 PM

I know I beat this drum a lot. You have great contact tracing standards, they mitigate the virus.

We have to do it all, not one aspect of it.


1.) Trace, Test, and Act
2.) Mask
3.) Social Distance
4.) Limit capacity

For year the CDC reduced or stopped spread by great contact tracing. Just because it's here you don't have to say "oh well" that's off the table.

September 28, 2020 at 9:38 PM

Tiptop22 The statistics being put out to the news media and public on COVID in Florida is not correct. The total number of beds that was filled to capacity was 64% throughout the State. Mostly due to not doing elective procedures. The computer systems at the Urgent Care centers don’t even interface with the hospitals computer systems and getting any type of correct statistics is hysterical. They will code someone who died of a heart attack or a stroke or any other major disease as a Covid death, if they are positive or if they are unknown. They counted people as positive if their specimen was incorrectly obtained or if they filled out paperwork and got tired of waiting in line for testing.

September 29, 2020 at 12:46 AM

So Troy you are claiming the number of deaths in Florida are greatly exaggerated because hospitals are coding any death as Covid? And you say this because you oversea the reporting at the majority of all hospitals in Florida? And further you claim that urgent care centers are making up what, I don’t know, since I’m unaware they have hospital beds and process death certificates. And you, apparently in charge of billing and coding, are aiding and abetting this fraud ??

September 29, 2020 at 8:32 PM

Tiptop22.....read into what you want to. The raw numbers have many grey areas. If a patient is Hospice that has prostate cancer for 8 years dies. I ask why was he counted as a Covid positive death??? Because he wasn’t tested and we didn’t know for sure, but since he died during this timeframe it’s automatically put down as a Covid position, even though they didn’t know. He did from cancer and they just counted him as a Covid death by default.

September 30, 2020 at 12:56 PM

First they were inaccurate now they are grey - which is it ? Sounds like you might have a problem with the one case you mentioned but you haven’t made the case for large scale fraud and misreporting in Florida. Also, I’m sure your organization has an anonymous ethics hotline and you have a duty to report such incidents there instead of a public theme park website. I don’t know the absolute truth either because I don’t have access to those numbers but whether it’s 100 or 200k deaths, it’s a substantial number of people and not to mention those that have recovered with lingering effects.

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