Some Florida public spaces reopened to visitors Wednesday as Gov. Ron DeSantis was expected to reveal just what he meant when he said the state will be taking “baby steps” to reopening the economy from the coronavirus shutdown.
Hard-hit Miami-Dade and Broward counties took baby steps as did some other counties by reopening such outdoor recreation areas as parks and golf courses, but with heavy restrictions.
At one Miami-Dade park, orange mesh-covered park playground equipment that was still closed, but tennis players hit the courts in the 80-degree heat. Playing doubles was not allowed and staff members kept people from staying in the covered rest areas.
“They have arranged the courts very well so you don’t get close to other players,” said Orlando Saldivia, 52, who was playing with his wife. “I feel safe and there aren’t very many people. We are very active people so we missed this.”
For David Vamos, 62, it was enough to practice serving. He is a hospital social worker who has continued to work but not been able to play the sport he loves.
“It’s nice to hit a tennis ball again and to be out in the open,” he said. “It’s a great experience. I am glad to get back. I feel like there is nothing safer than this. As long as you wear a mask when you may get close to others and continue practicing social distancing.”
As of Wednesday morning, the state reports 33,193 confirmed cases since early March and 1,218 deaths.
The state, like the nation, has seen large swaths of its workforce thrown into unemployment because of the shutdown and its two biggest economic sectors, tourism, and agriculture, decimated as visitors fled and institutional produce buyers such as hotels and schools closed.
More than 800,000 Floridians have filed for unemployment.
DeSantis was one of the last governors to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, preferring a county-by-county approach throughout March. Statewide, he essentially closed bars March 17 and on March 20 he closed gyms, limited restaurants to takeout and delivery, and banned gatherings greater than 10. Schools also closed in March.
On April 1, the Republican governor ordered the closure of non-essential businesses statewide starting two days later and ordered employees to work from home wherever possible.
DeSantis has said his approach worked, as Florida’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths are significantly lower per-capita than many states that instituted earlier and much stricter restrictions. Critics have said that by not closing beaches, restaurants, and theme parks earlier, DeSantis allowed tourists to congregate and spread the disease, then return to their home states and countries — infections that wouldn’t show up in Florida’s totals.
Baby steps: Some Florida public spaces reopen