Legislators say North Florida residents are disaster-tested and "cannot allow an invisible threat and government intervention to be the disaster that brings it to its knees."
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A delegation of Northwest Florida House members wants Gov. Ron DeSantis to reopen the Panhandle tourism industry ahead of other areas more severely impacted by the coronavirus.
The seven Republicans who signed the letter tell DeSantis that although the 17 counties they represent have produced a low number of the state’s coronavirus cases (about 4%) much of the the Panhandle’s economy remains shut down under his Phase One plan to reopen Florida for business.
DeSantis issued a March 27 executive order that blocked people from renting vacation properties during the public health emergency, but he allowed hotels, motels, inns, resorts and time-share facilities to stay open.
This past week some restaurants and retail establishments were given the green light to reopen under social-distancing guidelines and at a 25 percent capacity for indoor dining.
The Panhandle House members recommended that now that he has launched Phase One, DeSantis make his main focus to get “main street open and back to work.”
In the letter dated May 7, the seven Republicans, representing coastal counties from the Big Bend to Pensacola, lobbied DeSantis to allow the vacation rental industry to resume operation as a way to boost other tourism-related jobs in the sparsely-populated region.
The group warns that although the Panhandle is resilient, its vacation rentals and support businesses such as bait shops, hardware stores and cleaning crews cannot endure a second month of zero income.
"We have overcome significant disasters in the past decade: the BP Oil Spill, Hurricane Michael, the NAS Pensacola shooting and forest fires. We cannot allow an invisible threat and government intervention to be the disaster that brings it to its knees,” stated the letter signed by Representatives Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe; Robert Andrade, R-Pensacola; Brad Drake, R-Panama City; Mike Hill, R-Pensacola; Mel Ponder, R-Destin; Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City; and Jayer Williamson, R-Pace.
The seventeen counties represented by the group accounts for 1,603 coronavirus cases and 44 deaths attributed to COVID-19. Statewide there were 38,828 cases as of Thursday with 1,600 fatalities.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee