OPINION: Moving to Phase III of Florida’s reopening was premature 

Florida’s transition into Phase III of reopening is not going well, and citizens are already feeling the effects of the governor’s hasty decision. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, Florida was sure to see another huge wave of infections after Gov. Ron DeSantis gave bars and nightclubs clearance to open at full capacity in September as the state moved into Phase III of its reopening plan. 

The decision to move Florida into Phase III was reckless and has directly put the lives of millions in danger. 

The Florida Department of Health reported that the number of new COVID-19 cases in Florida was 4,820 on Oct. 31 and there were 28 new COVID-19-related deaths recorded Nov. 1. Over the weekend, the total number of cases in Florida surpassed 800,000.

Outraged by increasing cases and no action from Tallahassee, local leaders are standing up to these and other dangerous regulation reductions. DeSantis’ announced on Oct. 20 that he wants to move away from online schooling.

“Going forward, whatever the future may hold, school closures should be off the table,” DeSantis said. “They don’t do anything to mitigate COVID. But they do cause catastrophic damage to the physical, mental and social well-being of our youth. Let’s not repeat any mistakes of the past.”

In response to DeSantis’ announcement, President of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association Wendy Doromal explained that Florida teachers and students are not ready for the transition back.

“Teachers are already saying they don’t feel safe,” Doromal told Fox Orlando on Oct. 31. “Since July 1, 611 teachers have either resigned or retired from [Orange County public schools].” 

Some might argue that Florida wasn’t even ready for Phase II, evidenced by the fact that around one month after moving into the second phase of reopening, Florida experienced a record-breaking spike of over 15,000 daily new cases on July 12.

The plan requires that Phase III commences after a successful Phase II, which includes a “downward trajectory” of cases and no evidence of a rebound wave of COVID-19 cases. Cases in Florida spiked almost immediately following the governor’s decision to move to Phase III and they haven’t slowed down, evident by observing one of Florida’s larger spikes at over 5,500 new cases reported just under two weeks after DeSantis’ announcement.

With Florida in Phase III, bars and nightclubs all over downtown Tampa have seen massive, non-socially distanced crowds, according to ABC Action News. Situations like this invite the spread of COVID-19 and with DeSantis encouraging it, there looks to be no end in sight. 

Florida leaders have handled the COVID-19 pandemic poorly since it arrived in the state, and state officials have done little to improve the situation. Florida should look to Vermont for ideas on how to govern during a pandemic, a state many health officials are commending as the model for how to correctly handle the pandemic.

Despite the state’s rural geography, Vermont has loosened its regulations very gradually. Its initial lockdown in early March is still being lifted, and state officials have given local governments the authority to set their own rules if need be, allowing college towns to have stricter rules. Not only are officials worried about inside factors, but they also have imposed a strict two-week quarantine for tourists traveling by either plane or bus.

Floridians should demand that our representatives take similar actions as Vermont to try to return to some semblance of normalcy and protect fellow citizens. 

Cases in Florida do not need to be as high as they are right now. Find out who your local state representative is on the Florida House of Representatives website and make your voice heard about how Florida should be handling the pandemic.