Florida residents will be under a 30-day stay-at-home order starting at midnight, after Gov. Ron DeSantis buckled to public pressure and escalated the state’s COVID-19 response on Wednesday, but it’s not a lockdown by any stretch.
The order still allows the general public to go outside to pursue essential services or activities. Large swaths of day-to-day life fall into the “essential” category.
“It’s fairly broad, because essential services are pretty broad,” said Assistant County Manager David Kraus. “There’s a lot of things you just have to have.”
Buying groceries, visiting the doctor, getting the family pet groomed, caring for a friend or family member and filling up on gas are all considered essential activities. Hunting, fishing and similar outdoor recreational activities are also deemed essential, provided social distancing guidelines are obeyed.
“Based off what I’ve read in it, it really doesn’t change a whole lot,” said Columbia County Emergency Management Director Shayne Morgan.
Church services are even considered essential, a major departure from the shelter-in-place orders adopted by other states.
Floridians can still travel to work if their employer is considered essential. Anyone is allowed to work from home if their job allows it.
There do appear to be additional restrictions on the elderly and people with certain medical conditions, said County Attorney Joel Foreman.
One provision says that “Senior citizens and individuals with a significant underlying medical condition (such as chronic lung disease, moderate-to-severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised status, cancer, diabetes, severe obesity, renal failure and liver disease) shall stay at home and take all measures to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
Unlike the provision dealing with the general public, this one does not provide exemptions for essential services or activities, Foreman said.
“I think that’s the most interesting language in the order,” Foreman said. “It says ‘shall not leave their home’ — so the governor is ordering all of our senior citizens and anyone with those conditions to stay at home.”
It’s up to the local sheriff to decide how to enforce that, Foreman said, but deputies probably won’t handcuff old ladies who are trying to pick up a gallon of milk.
“I really wouldn’t envision anybody getting arrested unless it’s a flagrant violation,” Foreman said.
Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said Wednesday that he would review the provision with his staff today to determine its meaning and how best to keep county residents safe.
However, he noted, “There’s a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.”
The statewide order defines essential commercial and government services based on a sweeping list compiled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a measure enacted in Miami-Dade County.
All businesses are encouraged to provide delivery, carry-out or curbside services.
Stores like Walmart and Publix are considered essential, as are banks, accounting firms, gas stations, dry cleaner, hotels and funeral homes, just to name a few.
Farmer workers, power company employees and truck drivers are included, as well.
The list of essential employees goes on and on far beyond those examples.
Recreation-based businesses such as bowling alleys and skating rinks are not considered essential.
“Something like GameStop,” Foreman said.
Movie theaters are another example, but the big two— Regal and AMC — already closed down all locations nationwide, including the Regal 90 in Lake City.
Nightclubs and bars were already shut down by order of the governor on Saint Patrick’s Day.
“If you were in a larger municipality that had maybe a more diverse small business community, you might see a broader impact,” Foreman said. “I wouldn’t imagine we’re going to see a whole bunch of businesses shut down that aren’t already shut down.”