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County commissioners meet to clarify DeSantis order

By Staff | Apr 1, 2020

Amid confusion concerning an order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday morning, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners held an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon clarifying what exactly the order means to residents and businesses.

DeSantis had described the order as “directing all Floridians to limit movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.” He said the guidelines, from President Trump, amount to a “national pause.”

However, the state exemptions for people and businesses are so vast that the on-ground effect of the order has left the local officials and the public with a lot of questions.

Essential businesses include a long list that includes government, finance, hardware, food and agriculture, infrastructure, commercial, health care, trucking, childcare facilities, telecommunications providers, construction, architectural services, marina services, factories, waste management services, warehouses and any businesses interacting with customers solely through electronic or telephonic services that use electronic, shipping, mailing services.

At Wednesday’s county emergency meeting, commissioners — who just two days earlier opted for urging residents to follow state advisories in lieu of issuing a shelter-in-place order — questioned County Attorney Richard Wesch as to just how strict DeSantis’ order was.

Board Chair Brian Hamman noted that some of the things people can still do is walking, biking, hunting, swimming, taking care of pets and attending religious activities.

Commissioner Frank Mann wanted to know the difference between strength for what the county approved Monday and what DeSantis has ordered effective as of 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Wesch said the governor’s use of the word “shall” in the order made it a mandate. He referred to the order’s wording of “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.”

He also cited the paragraph which states “all persons in Florida shall limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.”

“The use of the word shall makes it mandatory,” Hamman said.

Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass asked what the impact would be on those in transition or homeless. “What if people don’t have a home?”

“That’s putting law enforcement in a bad position,” Pendergrass said.

Pendergrass said there is a lot of confusion now because some people are in the process of purchasing homes or moving.

Commissioner Ray Sandelli wanted to know what the difference was between “stay at home” and “safer at home.”

Hamman said a lot of people have asked for clarity about the governor’s order because the heading on the order says “safer at home.”

With all of the exceptions and exemptions listed in the order by DeSantis, as well as the federal exceptions and Miami-Day County exceptions adopted by DeSantis, has left commissioners and the public with a lot of questions.

At the start of Wednesday’s meeting Hamman prayed for the protection of those taking care of those affected by the current pandemic and on the front lines of helping treat those at risk. “Father, we pray that you will be with them. It is in Jesus’s name we pray.”