Some of Florida's harder-hit municipalities ordered all their residents to shelter-in-place Tuesday after Gov. Ron DeSantis argued against a statewide order and blamed people flying in from New York and New Jersey for potentially spreading the coronavirus.
The "Safer at Home" order went into effect Tuesday morning for Miami Beach residents. Other Miami-Dade County municipalities, including Bay Harbor Islands and Bal Harbour Village, issued similar orders Monday night.
Gainesville and surrounding Alachua County, where the 36 confirmed cases include college students returning from Spring Break, also issued "stay at home" orders on Monday.
"People should only be outside for exercise and attending to their necessities like shopping for groceries or visiting a pharmacy," Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said in a statement. "It won't be like this forever, but for now in a community like ours this makes the most sense."
More than 1,200 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Florida as of Monday evening, and and the death toll rose by four from the day before, to 17.
DeSantis issued an executive order on Monday requiring anyone arriving on a flight from the New York City area to self-quarantine for two weeks. State officials did not immediately return calls Monday evening seeking information on how many of those diagnosed in Florida recently arrived or returned from New York or had contact with someone who did.
The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in some, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators, stressing the health care system's capacity to respond.
Still, DeSantis said Monday he wants to avoid imposing a statewide lockdown like California, New York and other states have done, because he still believes focusing the most extreme measures on counties hardest hit by the virus is preferable.
About half the state's reported COVID-19 cases are in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. But testing remains limited and has yet to show any cases of the virus in a third of Florida's 67 counties. Another third have reported only a few.
"It would be a very blunt instrument. When you're ordering people to shelter in place you are consigning a number – probably hundreds of thousands of Floridians to lose their jobs," DeSantis said. "You're throwing their lives potentially into disarray, and if that were something necessary statewide because the health comes first, that would be one thing. But if you look at Florida's situation right now, this is not a virus that's impacting every corner of the state."
Some Florida Democrats are calling on the Republican governor to impose a statewide stay-at-home order, but DeSantis said states that have done so have seen large numbers refuse to comply.
"New York City, it's like the party never ended — you've got people congregating all over the place," DeSantis said. He said such people realize "a governor is not going to start imprisoning people just because they leave their house."
DeSantis has ordered such statewide closures as bars and gyms, and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery. State parks have been closed. But some counties have gone farther, closing not only nonessential businesses but also beaches, marinas and some other public areas.