TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has asked President Donald Trump to declare his state a disaster area amid the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 1,400 Floridians and killed 18.
DeSantis joins governors across the country who want the official declaration from the president to make their states eligible for federal aid. Trump has not yet responded.
“Covid-19 has had, and continues to have, a drastic effect on community infrastructure,” DeSantis wrote in a letter dated Sunday but released to the public Monday night. “Hospitals, medical facilities and first responders are facing challenges rarely experienced before.”
The Republican governor requested federal funds for unemployment assistance, crisis counseling, community disaster loans and food aid.
DeSantis said state and local resources are strained and response actions have totaled more than $208 million so far.
“Business revenue and tax receipts are suffering and without supplemental federal assistance, the state’s ability to sufficiently respond to and recover from this event will be severely impacted,” he wrote.
On March 2, DeSantis directed the Florida surgeon general to declare a public health emergency after the state’s first positive test. On March 9, he declared a general state of emergency.
DeSantis, who has close ties to the president, has received widespread criticism in recent days for not issuing a stay-at-home order like those in New York, California and 18 other states.
The state’s top Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, pressured DeSantis to take action.
“Shutting down one of the nation’s largest states is a decision that will have an economic impact – but it is a decision that will save lives,” she wrote in a letter to the governor. “A piecemeal approach of closing certain communities and businesses risks sowing further confusion.”
DeSantis defended his decision at a press conference late Monday.
“I think given our circumstances, that would not be advisable,” the governor said about a shelter-in-place order. “It would be a very blunt instrument. When you are ordering people to shelter in place you are consigning a number of people, probably hundreds of thousands of Floridians, to lose their jobs. You are throwing their lives into potential disarray.”
He said there are no Covid-19 cases in 20 of the state’s 67 counties and most cases are clustered in south Florida.
“It’s also not clear to me that doing a massive shutdown would even work,” he said, referring to news reports showing people in New York City continuing to congregate.
DeSantis also worried about what a statewide lockdown would do to mental health, including a spike in suicides, child abuse and drug use.
“In hurricane situations we see spikes in all of those things,” he said.
Without action from the governor, local officials began issuing their own emergency orders on Tuesday requiring residents to remain in their homes except for essential activities, such as grocery shopping and seeking medical care.
Stay-at-home orders went into effect in Miami Beach and Gainseville, home to the University of Florida, in addition to other municipalities.
“If he doesn’t act quickly, cities and counties will,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said on Tuesday. “If we are not going to get it statewide, we need to do it regionally.”
Kriseman said his counterparts in Tampa and Orlando may issue their own orders soon.
Florida has begun restricting some people from entering the state.
DeSantis issued an executive order on Monday that requires those who travel to Florida from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to self-isolate for 14 days upon entering the state.
He said there continues to be nearly 200 flights from those states into Florida.
“I would reckon that there is someone on every single flight that has Covid-19,” the governor said.
Those who do not self-isolate will be criminally prosecuted, DeSantis said.
“If they say they are going to stay with family, that is not self-quarantining,” he warned.