Sarasota’s response to DeSantis’ stay-at-home order

After days of mounting pressure from politicians, public health experts and constituents, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide order to stay at home on Wednesday, April 1. The order, effective through April 30, directs the elderly and high-risk individuals—those who suffer from diabetes, obesity, cancer or other serious medical conditions—to stay in their homes. All other residents are expected to limit their activity outside of the home to only “essential” needs. Essential activities defined by the order include buying groceries, attending religious services, pet care, recreational activities such as walking and swimming, and professional wrestling. 

While this order has faced criticism for many components deemed to be unnecessary, it has been particularly condemned by many for its late arrival compared to the rest of the United States and the world. In a phone interview with Sarasota Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, she explained that a stay-at-home order was something she had been “personally pushing for the city to do, to react faster.”

“Everybody was saying the sooner you do it, the faster you get to economic recovery,” Ahearn-Koch said. “The sooner you shelter in place, you don’t overwhelm the healthcare system.”

“You flatten the curve like everyone was saying and then the more robust your economy is afterwards. It might take a little bit longer to get through it, but that’s what you need to be doing.”

Before their respective state governments, a slew of cities and counties across the nation made their own decisions to issue stay-at-home orders. iDue to complexities within the bureaucracy of city, county and state government, Ahearn-Koch was unable to instate a stay-at-home order before April 1.  

In emergency situations, Ahearn-Koch explained that the city’s point of contact—in Sarasota’s case, the city manager—is “required to coordinate our emergency efforts through the county.”

“We don’t have the authority [to issue a stay-at-home order] because we have to coordinate with the state,” Ahearn-Koch said. While the governor was conveying the message that local authorities did have the capability to issue a stay-at-home order, “ the county’s attorney and the city’s attorney were saying, we don’t think we do have the authority.”

Commonly, many legal experts also believe the White House does not have the authority to issue a national lockdown, as President Trump briefly raised and quickly dropped the suggestion to do so. While multiple states across the nation and countries across the world issued their own variations of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, both the federal government and local governments had difficulties in distinguishing where their power stopped.

While waiting for clarity on the city’s capabilities, Ahearn-Koch explained that “the governor went ahead and issued that stay-at-home order.”

On Tuesday, March 24, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor attempted to issue a stay-at-home order to city residents that would have taken effect the next day. However, this order came a day after Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill announced that no part of Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, would go under a stay-at-home order until the county decided. This quickly led to confusion, with city residents not knowing whose directive to follow—exactly why Ahearn-Koch did not push forward with one of her own.

Despite the initial difficulties with obtaining a stay-at-home order, Ahearn-Koch believes that even before its implementation, the city of Sarasota had “really good compliance.”

Now, she personally believes that the city is “getting close to 90 plus percent compliance.” While she knows “you’re never going to get 100% of everyone to comply,” she has focused her efforts on educating citizens, not punishing.

“Everybody needs to understand that this is a virus that’s impacting our entire world and everybody needs to play a role in stopping it.”

Information for this article was gathered from the Tampa Bay Times and NPR.

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