Teleconferences continue as experts help develop a plan to re-open Florida

Leaders across several industries are meeting to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and how they can re-open the economy safely.

Re-Open Florida Task Force

(WWSB) - Experts across many industries are a part of the dialogue to create a comprehensive plan to re-open the state of Florida.

The Re-open Florida Task Force working groups met again through teleconference on Thursday to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and how as a state we can ease into re-opening the economy in the safest way possible.

On Wednesday two of the three working groups were able to meet and have a dialogue. In the afternoon they were able to present their findings to the executive Task Force committee. The common theme was the need for a plan and the development of policies for everyone across all industries to follow.

Thursday morning the third working group met. The teleconference included experts from industries including agriculture, finance, government, healthcare, management and professional services.

At the beginning of the more than two hour meeting leaders in the agriculture industry spoke about the harsh impacts the pandemic has had.

“Florida’s Ag has been hit hard,” said Mike Joyner with the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. He says it’s hard to tell right now what the long term effects will be.

Joyner said during his presentation that there are several barriers they’re seeing across the industry including a very limited amount of flexibility to move produce found for food services and into retail.

“Transportation and labor have been available for the most part. If you got products going into food services it is very difficult to ship to retail,” said Joyner.

The President of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, John Hoblick, also chimed in. He said the vegetable and fruit industry are struggling because of the pandemic and also other farmers that grow crops and are in the dairy industry.

On the other side of it, the Florida Citrus director of government affairs, Matt Joyner says they’ve seen an increase in retail because of the nutritional benefits of orange juice. He says even though they’ve seen an increase they still have a large amount of food service need.

From agriculture to healthcare, medical professionals voiced their opinion about re-opening the state.

The Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, Mary Mayhew said on Thursday morning the pandemic has had a significant impact on the healthcare arena.

Mayhew says hospitals have seen a significant cost increase in all areas including more staffing, more benefits, overtime, and the purchasing of personal protective equipment. She says hospitals are at the same time seeing a dramatic reduction of revenue because of the substantial decrease of elective procedures.

Governor Ron Desantis issued an executive order to halt elective procedures so hospitals could use the beds and PPE they had on emergency and COVID-19 patients. That executive order is expected to be lifted in a few weeks.

Hospital representatives like the one at Tampa General Hospital, John Couris, say hospitals statewide need a few weeks to gear up for elective procedures again. He says the May 8 lift that Governor DeSantis wrote in his executive order is reasonable. Couris says this gives hospitals an ample amount of time to provide a set of recommendation guidelines and principles to assure a safe environment for everyone involved in surgical procedures. One of his recommendations was to test patients scheduled for surgery to minimize the risk for exposure to COVID-19.

Couris also said during the call Thursday morning that hospitals statewide need to prepare for the potential second wave of cases as we as a state ease into opening the economy back up. He recommends the Task Force to ask healthcare providers to have a minimum of 15 days supply of PPE but ideally 30 day supplies. He everyone needs to look at the big picture and see how quickly they can restock.

On that same subject matter, dental experts say they’re going to need PPE as they begin to roll out elective surgeries again too. Representatives say most dental offices gave their PPEs to hospitals throughout the last few weeks because of the large shortage. Mayhew said PPE is becoming more accessible.

A theme throughout this meeting was also finding ways to help the generalized increase of anxiety and depression that is to come because of the pandemic and its effects. A representative with the Florida Behavioral Health Association said this will also increase things like violence and overdoses. They’ve already seen an uptick of crisis calls in violence.

At 11 a.m. on Thursday the administrative, education, information and technology, manufacturing, mining, utilities and wholesale Task Force working group held a meeting. Experts and leaders in Technology, early education, colleges and technical schools and the manufacturing industry were able to bounce ideas and voice concerns.

44% of early learning centers are reportedly still open across the state during the pandemic and they say they’ve been following guidelines of no more than ten students at a time and extreme cleaning and sanitation protocols. An issue posed by the early learning coalition is the concern for gaps of students transitioning from early learning to kindergarten. They want to identify how they can bridge this gap. The same issues are being posed on the college level. Leaders are concerned about the gap for seniors transitioning into colleges or tech schools.

As for the manufacturing industry representatives in the meeting they say their aim is to figure out how they can keep workers safe. They also said retail is what keeps them going and without it manufacturing companies could really suffer.

At noon the tourism, accommodation, food, construction, real estate, recreation, retail and transportation work group met for an estimated ninety minutes to discuss where they left on Wednesday.

Experts say the economic activity across March was good, especially in hospitality.

As more people are receiving monetary help from the government industry leaders say this should help reset problems they’re seeing in the rental industry.

Representatives with the cruise line and seaport industries says the pandemic has had a big impact just like many other industries have seen. The Chairman of MSC Cruises North America, Richard Sasso, said they can’t predict when cruise line will open again but before getting to that point people across the industry are going to have to master ways to help consumers feel safe sand secure.

Port of Tampa representatives says the cruise industry is vital to ports and tourism statewide. They say Florida’s ports will be at the forefront of bringing the state’s economy back up.

The Re-open Florida Task Force Executive Committee is hearing from the three working groups beginning at 3 p.m. You can listen in on: https://thefloridachannel.org/ and on the ABC7 Facebook page.

The task force is scheduled to meet again on Friday.

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