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Amid heavy criticism, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday issued a state-wide stay-at-home order for the state in response to the coronavirus.This came after some local counties and cities had already put similar orders in place ahead of the governor’s mandate. Stephen Mort of PBS station WUCF joins Hari Sreenivasan from Orlando to discuss what's happening in the state related to the outbreak.
Governor Ron DeSantis issued a state-wide stay-at-home order for Florida in response to the spread of the coronavirus just yesterday. This came after some local counties and cities had already put similar orders in place ahead of the governor's mandate. I spoke with Stephen Mort from PBS station WUCF about the change and developments in Florida.
Steve, the big news in Florida this week is that you finally have a stay-at-home order, but what does that actually mean?
That's something that local authorities throughout Florida are trying to figure out. The governor coming out this week and saying finally that there was going to be the statewide stay at home order. Now, the confusion comes because the governor initially said that his order supersedes all other orders throughout the state, that they couldn't go further than this order put in place. And in fact, Governor DeSantis on Wednesday night put out a clarification order making just that point, saying that all other local government orders that conflict with this, this now supersedes it. The following day, however, on Thursday, he did say that local authorities have the ability to do more, that this just acted as a floor. Now, you know, there's all kinds of confusion about this. If this does supersede local government action, then it would open the way, for example, for religious services to take place. That's been something that some local authorities have said you can't do. And in fact, we saw a megachurch pastor be arrested in the Tampa Bay area for doing just that, the holding church services. Now, whether or not the counties in Florida can say you cannot have church services. Well, that remains to be seen.
What is happening on the economic front when people stop traveling to one of the big destinations that profits from their travel and even has an entire cruise ship industry that's based there?
Well, the cruise ship industry, of course, is in critical condition at the moment. And that is a big engine, particularly in the south of the state at Port Everglades. And one of the largest cruise ports in the nation at the Port of Miami. The tourism industry is particularly susceptible to shocks. And this is something that we've heard over and over again from tourist industry analysts in this part of the world that this is much, much worse than September 11th. We saw closures for a short period of time, tourist attractions after that happened in 2001. Now, we've had Disney closed for multiple weeks. Disney had initially said that they were going to continue to pay their workforce, which number some 70,000 people here in the Orlando area by far and away the largest employer. They said that they were going to continue to pay their workforce through the end of March. Well, now we have news that Disney will begin furloughing people coming through at the middle of April. So when you get those furloughs coming into force, you're going to see a lot more people added to the unemployment rolls.
And in fact, the unemployment rolls in Florida have really, really swelled just over the last couple of weeks. We've seen 227,000 Floridians filed for jobless benefits just in the last week. That number was about 74,000 the previous week. So this is an economy which is heavily reliant upon part time work, temporary work and that tourism industry.
Steve, are health experts that you're hearing from concerned that it took Florida this long, especially considering how many senior citizens are there?
Yes, they are. There have been measures put in place earlier on in the game to protect the elderly community particularly. There's been a ban, a prohibition on visits to nursing homes throughout the state. And in fact, I spoke to a spokesman for the Florida Health Care Association, which is an umbrella group for nursing home facilities and rehabilitation facilities throughout the state. They do say they are concerned. I mean, older people don't understand that they can't go and visit their relatives at nursing homes. Nursing homes of course, they've got to have those critical supplies. The people that work at the nursing homes have got to leave at the end of the day and they've got to come back again. Many of them, they tell me, are implementing screening procedures, very tight screening procedures, making sure that they check the temperatures, they check the vitals of staff when they come back.
But this, as you know, we have one of the largest populations of seniors in the nation here in Florida. And of course, as we've been able to tell over the last couple of weeks, they are one of the most vulnerable communities when it comes to COVID-19. So that indeed is a big concern as well. Many hospitals telling us, you know, they're having trouble getting the equipment they need. The mayor of Orange County saying that that will, in fact, be a shortage of ventilators. And he put that down directly to what he called the inadequate state and federal response to this. So a lot of local leaders are not pulling any punches when it comes to criticism of both the state and federal governments and how that's left them short of supplies.
Steve Mort, thanks so much for joining us.
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