As the novel coronavirus continues to spread in Florida, hammering almost every aspect of our daily lives, the ripple effects of the contagion came into full view this week.
Unemployment filings skyrocketed. More and more cities and counties set curfews and urged residents to stay home. Law enforcement officers began to lock up fewer people — and in some cases released dozens of offenders back into communities — to halt the potential spread in jails and prisons.
And as coronavirus cases soared to 2,900, officials across the state confirmed the virus has infected people of all walks of life, including poll workers, prison and jail employees and dozens of long-term care residents.
In the midst of the public health crisis, Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to face intense scrutiny from Democrats for leaving it up to local officials to issue stay-at-home orders and for refusing to close beaches statewide.
DeSantis argued a one-size-fits-all approach is not the best approach, citing concerns about intensifying the virus’ negative impact on the state’s economy.
But he ordered all travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to self-isolate for 14 days when they get to Florida, a move that Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, called a “thoughtful data-driven approach” on Tuesday.
DeSantis said he also wants people who are 65 and older and people with serious medical conditions to stay home for two weeks.
Jobless claims are spiking as numerous types of businesses, including the vital tourism and hospitality industries, have shut down or cut back while the state struggles to combat the coronavirus.
The U.S. Labor Department announced that 3.28 million jobless claims were filed during the week that ended Sunday, with just a little more than 74,000 from Floridians. And tens of thousands of claims continued pouring into the state throughout this week.
“This is a huge increase, and it just shows you how so many people have been dislocated,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “We’re working on getting them the relief. We want the federal government to do stuff as well. But man, that’s not only going to have an economic cost but a health cost unless we work hard to remedy that as soon as possible.”
Imposed closings have come down hard on bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and vacation destinations such as Key West. Other employers that have been hit hard include hotels.
The state offers 12 weeks of unemployment benefits that top out at $275 a week, though a new federal stimulus package is slated to provide an additional $600 a week, for four months, to people who qualify.
Democrats and labor organizations called this week for Florida to beef up benefits and said the state needs a more accessible unemployment-compensation system. Problems with that online system could be an impediment to jobless Floridians tapping into the federal benefits, they said.
“You still have to go through the Florida unemployment process in order to access those (federal) benefits,” Wendi Walsh, secretary of UNITE HERE Local 355 in South Florida, said. “And if the system is broken, that means that not only you won’t get the Florida benefits, but you’re not going to get the federal benefits either. And people are desperate to receive those benefits right away.”