Democrats call for scaling back reopening

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Public health authorities have identified bars as the locus of outbreaks in various states.
DREAMSTIME/TNS

BY JIM TURNER
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Senate Democrats want to scale back economic-reopening efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, as Gov. Ron DeSantis maintains his approach has been taken with an “eye towards what’s sustainable.”

In a conference call Wednesday with reporters, Democrats pushed for a statewide mandatory mask requirement as they offered a “Step Back to Safety” plan.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, warned that without a cautious rollback of the economic reopening, the state will need another broader closure.

“The people of Florida don’t want that. The people of Florida can’t handle that,” Braynon said.

“But if we don’t take the necessary actions right now, to step back, to let bars remain closed, go back to the 25 percent occupancy rules, (if) we don’t go back right now, it’s only going to get worse.”

Partial shutdown

The plan, in part, seeks to revert retail and restaurant maximum occupancy from 50 percent allowed in most of the state to 25 percent, which was the level under an initial phase of reopening in May. Also, they said bars should remain shuttered.

Instead of forcing schools to reopen campuses, Democrats said the state should ensure all students have computers and internet access. In addition, they said each county should delay reopening classrooms until the local coronavirus test-positivity rate is 5 percent or less for 14 consecutive days.

“While the governor tries to figure out what to do, his hands-off approach is not working,” Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, DJacksonville, said. “He’s losing the war against the pandemic, and that means the people of the state of Florida are losing the war against the pandemic.”

Unemployment surges

Florida cruised past the $10 billion mark this week in the amount of unemployment benefits paid out since mid-March.

More than 3 million jobless applications have been filed, with about 2.88 million considered “unique,” according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity. The peak of first-time claims was in mid-April.

Of the unique claims, more than 2.62 million had been processed as of Tuesday, with 1.7 million claimants paid. The state had distributed $10.13 billion in state and federal benefits, of which $2.36 billion was state money.

News Service staff writer Christine Sexton contributed to this report.

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