As Florida struggles to combat the COVID-19 outbreak that has currently infected 6,741 people within the state and claimed the lives of 85, Gov. Ron DeSantis has not acknowledged pleas from local politicians and Democratic Congress members to implement a shutdown of non-essential businesses. Instead, DeSantis has spent time corresponding with some of Florida’s most powerful business lobbies.
According to The Tampa Bay Times, DeSantis, who was elected governor in 2018, has been in frequent contact with entities such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. The message both groups have attempted to convey to the governor is to keep businesses open and to keep the economy going.
Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber, praised DeSantis on his decision to not order shutdowns.
“We’re recommending that the governor continue to do what he’s doing,” Wilson said. “I don’t think the data says we need to do a statewide shutdown.”
On March 11, in a memorandum addressed to his fellow chamber members, Wilson stated that “At times like these, it’s important to remember this is a global situation and misinformation and overreacting is causing a secondary impact on our economy.”
The first five words of the following paragraph read “Florida is open for business” in bold font, followed by a mention of both travel and spring break and assurance from Wilson that “…we are in 24/7 contact with Governor Ron DeSantis’ office.”
The chamber, whose members spent a combined total of $481,400 in contributions to politicians and political organizations in 2018—with 62% of the recipients being Republican-related—is responsible for donating a total of $15,700 in campaign contributions to DeSantis. Robert J. Grammig, a chair of the chamber and a partner at high-powered Florida-based international law firm Holland & Knight, has been the chamber’s most generous donor, accounting for 49.6% of the organization’s financial contributions over the years. The aforementioned $15,700 that DeSantis received from the chamber, a total which accumulated from March 31, 2012 to Aug. 23, 2016—roughly four years and five months—was paid for by Grammig himself in contributions between $2,500 and $2,700 according to FEC filings.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, who’ve also been in contact with DeSantis, posted a link on their website to a letter that the governor sent to President Trump. In it, DeSantis requests that the commander-in-chief declare a Major Disaster for the state of Florida, referencing the Stafford Act.
Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, has praised DeSantis, saying “I think it’s great that he’s still allowing communities to do what’s in the best interest of their communities.” Dover has asked DeSantis to consider hotels and restaurants to be deemed essential.
DeSantis’ method of suggesting Floridians take social distancing safety measures while refusing to order shutdowns has angered many. Over 800 healthcare workers in Florida have signed a letter urging him take control of the situation. Among the short list of seven demands, the plea encourages DeSantis to ensure that healthcare professionals receive additional PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and to implement a “shelter-in-place” order for the entire state to minimize potential for the virus to spread.
On March 22, in an opinion piece titled “Coronavirus is killing us in Florida, Gov. DeSantis. Act like you give a damn,” the editorial board of The Miami Herald blasted the governor for his inaction, accusing him of “working overtime to preserve our status as the world’s leading exporter of political comedy” for his approach regarding the pandemic.
Further in the article, the Herald’s editorial board presents an ultimatum, saying that DeSantis must “step up” to aid healthcare professionals and those out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak, the alternative being “Otherwise, he’s as derelict as the President.”
On Saturday, Tampa Bay Times/Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas was banned from attending a news briefing in which DeSantis spoke on Covid-19 testing and access to medicine. The reason for her denial of entry, according to the governor’s spokeswoman, was due to Klas asking the governor’s staff to hold video conference briefings in place of live ones as a means to protect reporters from possible Covid-19 infection days prior. Because of this, the spokeswoman suggested that Klas view the conference via live stream.
Klas took to Twitter and wrote that a reporter from The News Service of Florida in attendance at the briefing was threatened of being kicked out of the room by DeSantis’ staff if he kept suggesting that Klas be allowed into the conference.
On Monday, DeSantis announced that he would be signing an order that urges residents of Florida’s hard-hit southeast region to remain inside their homes until mid-May.