TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) – After weeks of resistance, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order Wednesday for the nation’s third most populous state as coronavirus cases neared 7,000.
“I think at this point, even though a lot places in Florida have low infection rates, it makes sense to make this move now,” the Republican governor said at a press conference in Tallahassee.
The 30-day order, which the governor has not yet released, goes into effect at midnight Thursday.
DeSantis said the order directs Floridians to stay home unless they need to go out for “essential services or activities,” including grocery shopping, getting gas and obtaining medicine. Caring for animals and walking dogs are also allowed, DeSantis said.
Florida joins 33 other states with stay-at-home orders.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Sunshine State has 6,955 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Deaths rose to 87.
More than 30 of Florida’s 67 counties already issued their own stay-at-home orders and many local officials criticized DeSantis for not acting fast enough.
The governor pushed back, pointing to a dozen rural counties without any cases and several others with very few.
He admitted to taking a piecemeal approach – ordering restaurant dining rooms and bars to close two weeks ago, then requiring all visitors from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to self-quarantine upon entering the state.
Last week, DeSantis set up checkpoints to catch drivers from those northern states and Louisiana to the west. On Monday, he issued a stay-at-home order for South Florida.
But the governor faced mounting pressure this week to declare the statewide order.
Thirteen Democratic members of Congress sent him a letter on Tuesday imploring the governor to issue the order to save lives.
“This pandemic has not respected global borders so it certainly will not respect county borders,” the letter said. “We cannot wait, and we cannot leave this decision to county and municipal governments.”
An online petition demanding the statewide stay-at-home order garnered more than 400,000 signatures by the time DeSantis signed the order.
The governor said the 30-day extension of social distancing announced by President Donald Trump on Tuesday influenced his decision.
“To me, this means people are not going to go back to work,” he said. “It’s a national pause button.”
DeSantis also addressed the plight of passengers aboard two Holland America cruise ships heading to South Florida.
“I’m obviously not in control of the port, which is run by the county,” he said. “Clearly we’ll be willing to accept any Floridians onboard. My understanding is that most of the passengers are foreign nationals.”
The governor expressed concern over allowing any of those passengers to use “valuable” hospital beds in case of a coronavirus surge.
“We just want to get to a point where the resources can be used for the folks here, particularly in South Florida where we have most of our problems with Covid-19,” he said.
The cruise ships, the Zaandam and the Rottendam, have about 6,000 passengers. Hundreds are reportedly sick with the coronavirus on the Zaandam and four people have died.
The Broward County Commission, which controls the port, has not yet voted on how to handle the situation.
The U.S. Coast Guard has ordered the ships to remain at sea indefinitely, according to a safety bulletin obtained by the Miami Herald.
DeSantis said he thinks Trump will act on the issue later Wednesday.