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Florida Joins Other States Issuing Stay-At-Home Orders

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The cases of COVID-19 in the state of Florida have exploded. And the governor there, Ron DeSantis, has finally ordered a mandatory stay-at-home order. For days, he and President Trump were going back-and-forth - DeSantis saying it's up to the president; the president saying it's up to the governor. Then, the announcement finally came yesterday. But DeSantis still sought cover from the president. The governor said he made the decision after Trump extended social distancing guidelines for another 30 days.

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RON DESANTIS: I think that's a signal from the president that, look, this is - this is what we're going to be fighting for a month. There's not going to be any kind of return to normalcy; that's not going to happen.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen is following all this from Miami. Good morning, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Why did Florida's governor wait so long?

ALLEN: Well, you know, for weeks, he's been saying that Florida is a big state. And some counties here still have few, if any, cases. Most of the cases are in the south part of the state. Miami-Dade and Broward counties have the majority of cases. And those in other populous counties around the state have had stay orders in place (ph) for some time now. So DeSantis said he didn't think it made sense to order shutdown in rural counties which are far from these population centers.

MARTIN: Mm hmm. Even though, I mean, Florida's population - right? - there's so many elderly people who have conditions that would make them more vulnerable to this. I mean, is that what finally led him to change his mind?

ALLEN: You know, that - really, he has expressed a concern about some retirement communities. But that, I don't think, really factored into this so much as the mounting criticism, which has just been, you know, taking shape for weeks. It was led by Democrats at first, who thought Florida should follow the lead of states like California, New York, which imposed stay-at-home orders nearly two weeks ago now. Public health experts also were very critical.

This week, what really did it is the White House task force cited modeling done by an epidemiologist who said that the deaths and the health care crisis would be even worse if Florida didn't order a lockdown. So then DeSantis talked to members of the White House task force and President Trump, and he decided to issue the order.

MARTIN: Another issue DeSantis is dealing with there are these cruise ships with sick passengers and crew. One, in particular - four people are dead; nearly 200 people are sick from what is presumed to be the coronavirus. This cruise ship wants to dock in Fort Lauderdale. What's the latest?

ALLEN: Well, it is scheduled to arrive sometime later today. The cruise company is working with county officials to come up with a plan that would allow healthy passengers to get off and go home and would keep the sick people on the ship. Some would go to a hospital, and DeSantis seems fine with that.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Greg Allen reporting from Miami. We appreciate it.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

MARTIN: And now we introduce another voice into the conversation - Jane Castor. She is the Democratic mayor of the city of Tampa in Florida and was also the city's police chief. Mayor Castor, thanks for being here.

JANE CASTOR: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What do you make of Governor DeSantis' decision to order this stay-at-home directive at this point?

CASTOR: Well, it's - you know, I guess the phrase better late than never would apply. But we have - as the larger cities throughout the state of Florida, we were in constant contact with the mayors of Miami, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville. And each of us had already put a stay-at-home, safer-at-home order in place some time ago. So it - you know, I'm glad that the governor has taken this action, and there have been many that asked - have asked for it. But the larger, urban, more densely populated areas had already taken those steps.

MARTIN: What about testing? That's something that's been slow to come by nationally. Have you been able to conduct the kind of COVID-19 testing that you'd like to see in Tampa?

CASTOR: No, I don't think that any community has been able to do that because of the - you know, the woefully inadequate amount of supplies that we've received. We did - and I talked to the emergency manager of the state of Florida on practically a daily level. But we started to receive the swabs. We also have a - one of our medical schools here in Tampa is manufacturing swabs now, so we'll be able to collect. But then there's an issue having enough of the testing fluid and then the machines. And so it really is a difficult process, and I don't know that anyone is doing the level of testing that we should be doing.

MARTIN: The federal government has been trying to execute emergency aid to states to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Are you getting the help you need right now?

CASTOR: It is starting to come in. But I spent 31 years in law enforcement, did a great deal of emergency management. And I can say that I've never seen this lack of unpreparedness on the federal level. And I can understand everyone was caught, to a degree, by surprise, but we've been at this for a month now. And not to be able to have produced some of these items by this time is very, very surprising.

MARTIN: You say the federal response has been lacking. Does that mean you're not getting the help? I mean, what specifically do you need when it comes to funding?

CASTOR: Right. Well, a great example is the CARES funding. And I believe there's 8.2 billion slated to come to the state of Florida. But for that money to reach the local level, one of the requirements is that a city has to have over a half a million in population, and there's only 33 cities nationwide that have that. So I would hope that Secretary Mnuchin and others would rethink that distribution model because it really is the cities that are on the front line of fighting this and will be hurt the most economically. And so we're going to need that funding to get back up on our feet.

MARTIN: The mayor of Tampa, Fla., Jane Castor - we appreciate your time.

CASTOR: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.