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Gov. Ron DeSantis made the right decision to shut down non-essential travel and order Floridians to shelter at home. It was so right, in fact, that it was overdue.
By the time you read this, at least 10,000 Floridians will likely have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. It’s a number that only seems to be bounded by the number of tests administered. And almost all of those cases will have been community acquired, spread in supermarkets and gyms, living rooms or churches. Every time an infected person encounters an uninfected one, the chances of spread keep growing. And because it can take up to two weeks to show symptoms — and some never do — many of those infected people have no idea they are contagious.
Until now, Floridians have been existing under a patchwork of county and city regulation — with beaches being a prime example. Walton County closed its beaches March 19, Destin on March 21. Panama City Beach made the move March 20.
Mexico Beach didn’t shut down until Wednesday, April 1, and then only by a close 3-2 vote and only for two weeks.
Daytona Beach, meanwhile, continues to allow pedestrians on the beach, according to Daytonabeach.com, but has enacted an overnight curfew.
It was a confusing and thus dangerous situation, making it difficult for Floridians to know what they are and aren’t allowed to do. DeSantis’ order makes it easier. Residents "shall limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities," it reads. It is a lengthy list, but for most Floridians it boils down to that one word "essential." If you’re in doubt, check our coverage or visit Floridadisaster.org.
The keys are two-fold: the public’s ability to intrepret what is essential and government’s actions to enforce the order.
Stores and drive-through or takeout restaurants remain open, and rightly so, people must eat. Getting groceries while practicing proper precautions makes sense. Jumping into the car to run into the convenience store for a honey bun does not, or at least should not.
DeSantis didn’t spell out what would happen to people and businesses that did not follow his order. That’s an oversight that may fall to local officials.
This was the right thing to do. We’re only dismayed that DeSantis took so long to do it. Tuesday morning’s prediction that upwards of 100,000 Americans could die of COVID-19 before the virus runs its course was a sobering one: To put that in perspective, that number is nearly three times the number of Americans killed in traffic crashes each year. It points to the reality that this curve of infection is still climbing, steeply, and that earlier action probably would have saved lives.
DeSantis and local officials can’t go back and make more timely decisions, but they can make it clear to Floridians: This is real. Follow these orders, or the restrictions will only get tougher.
The original version of this editorial first appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.