Local, state leaders eye safe, strategic reopening

John Dickson, of the Village of Tamarind Grove, walks out of Johnny Rockets in Lake Sumter Landing with milkshakes for his wife and himself. Many local restaurants currently offer takeout and to-go ordering.

Officials in the tri-county area are joining other Florida counties in making plans for a phased-in reopening as the Florida Department of Health reports the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to decline. In terms of deaths from the disease caused by the coronavirus, the leading model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington says that peak likely occurred 17 days ago. “Our work is succeeding, we have flattened the curve,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, noting that not only have Florida hospitals not been overrun, but ICU beds and field hospitals sit empty right now. The Re-Open Florida Task Force assembled by DeSantis is expected to make recommendations by Friday on when and how to begin relaxing some social restrictions. Already this week the panel has discussed how Florida’s tourism industry and restaurants should reopen slowly, focusing first on getting residents to take in-state vacations before branching out to domestic and international travelers. Some Florida counties already have opened their beaches with others planning to do so soon.

Florida is a part of the coalition of southern states coordinating to reopen their economies that includes Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are poised to become the first to roll back social-distancing guidelines in a significant way in the coming days.

Georgia will permit businesses such as gyms, barbershops and tattoo parlors to resume business tomorrow. South Carolina will allow some retail stores, as well as flea markets, to reopen Monday. Tennessee has said the “vast majority” of its businesses can reopen May 1.

In Sumter County, the emergency policy group — a collaboration of elected and appointed officials — is reviewing reopening procedures under the county’s emergency management plan, said County Administrator Bradley Arnold.

“It is the guidance of our health department director that we look to our planning process first,” he said. “We are already discussing local benchmarks for loosening or tightening restrictions that are in step with the governor’s task force and President [Donald] Trump’s guidance on ‘Opening Up America Again.’”

He said the county’s plans will dovetail with the governor’s stay-at-home order in place until April 30.

In The Villages, some recreation centers may begin offering limited activities in early May, if approved by local, state and federal governments and their respective health agencies, said Richard Baier, manager of the Village Community Development Districts.

“The District is implementing a ‘health based,’ responsible approach to help prepare the facilities for use and afford residents time to adjust to protective measures, yet get them back to enjoying their lifestyle amenities,” he said in the Wednesday edition of the Recreation News.

Baier stressed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health department guidelines would continue to be enforced, such as social distancing, hand sanitizing and the use of protections like face masks and gloves.

In Marion County, commissioners decided Tuesday to follow the governor’s task force for reopening as well, and they scheduled a special public hearing for 1:30 p.m. Friday to amend the existing state of emergency along those lines.

In Lake County, officials are surveying local businesses to prepare for an appropriate reopening and recovery, said Commission Chairwoman Leslie Campione.

The online survey is available until 5 p.m. today through the Office of Elevate Lake website, elevatelake.com/survey.

“We need the input of businesses — large and small — throughout Lake County to ensure that we consider any additional measures needed once the transition to the new normal begins,” she said. “It is time now to strategically plan. At the same time, we must all continue to remain vigilant in taking all of the necessary steps to protect the health of ourselves and our families.”

Senior writer David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.