Re-Open Florida Task Force begins week-long effort to rebound state economy

'We need to get the economy back in a safe way'
Posted at 6:11 PM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 18:11:55-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- State officials are getting ready.

The governor’s Re-Open Florida Task Force met for the first time Monday afternoon.

The group has more than 20 executive members. They’re lawmakers, state officials, and many business leaders from companies like Publix, Disney and Lockheed Martin.

Via phone, the group kicked off what will be a gauntlet week of planning. They aim to release short, medium and long-term plans for reopening the state and analyze which businesses will be most at risk. Recommendations are due by Friday.

“We need to get the economy back in a safe way,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

DeSantis created the group intending to rebound Florida’s economy after it was crippled by virus protections, which started in mid-March. The state has since received more than 1.5 million unemployment claims.

“If we bounce back in a very thoughtful, safe and efficient way,” DeSantis said, “I think we can minimize or at least mitigate some of the damage that has been done and hopefully have a path back.”

One voice not on the call, Florida’s Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried. In a statement, the Democrat said she wasn’t asked to be a member of the task force. She also took issue with DeSantis not appointing someone to represent the state’s $137 billion agriculture industry.

The independently-elected Democrat accused DeSantis of putting politics over people.

“It’s equally concerning that the Governor neglected to mention agriculture on the initial call," Fried said. "I hope he will join my commitment to supporting our farmers and feeding our families."

While holding their virtual news conference, Florida Democrats worried the governor and president were moving too hastily.

“Trump and DeSantis are putting the stock market first, not the health and safety of our people,” said Terrie Rizzo, Florida Democratic Party Chair.

Before reducing restrictions, state party members said they wanted better testing to get a clearer picture of COVID-19’s spread. More than 265,000 Floridians have been tested to date. US Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Florida’s 27th, was hoping for triple that number.

“We must demand leadership from our leader in Tallahassee and in Washington,” said Rep. Shalala said. “This is about life and death.”

DeSantis has said Florida is working with the federal government to continue boosting testing in the state. Perhaps starting large-scale antibody tests in the coming weeks, he said.