State government should be taking the lead on coronavirus, but it’s not. Local governments are showing it’s a time for unity of purpose.
For years, state government hasn’t trusted local government to make decisions about everything from trimming trees to regulating front-yard vegetable gardens.
Now, at an urgent time when state government be taking the lead on coronavirus, it’s leaving the most consequential decisions to local governments.
Not ideal. This crisis should be managed and directed by the top, unlike tree-trimming. But Orange County and other local jurisdictions are increasingly stepping up to fill the vacuum.
Orange County was the latest with an extraordinary executive action by Mayor Jerry Demings Tuesday ordering the county’s 1.3 million residents to stay home for at least two weeks starting Thursday night. Osceola County did the same on Wednesday.
Good for Demings, good for leaders in Orange County’s 13 cities by unanimously embracing the move, and good for Osceola.
Now’s a time for unity of purpose, and Orange County’s local governments are showing us how that works.
It shouldn’t have come to this, of course. As the South Florida Sun Sentinel wrote in an editorial this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis has the power to enact a temporary, statewide order for people to shelter at home and reduce the coronavirus spread. He just won’t, saying it would be too disruptive.
At a news conference in Orlando on Wednesday, DeSantis showed no indication that his position was softening, even as 10 Democratic members of Congress wrote a letter urging him to act.
We doubt Democratic members of Congress have much influence over what the governor does. He appears to be taking his cues from President Trump, who this week said, “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down.”
So governments closer to the people are doing what the state will not, counties like
Orange, Osceola, Alachua, Leon and Pinellas, and cities like Miami and Jacksonville. The orders vary in detail and scope, but they’re designed to keep people inside and away from each other to stymie the virus’ ability to spread.
Orange County’s order has lots of exceptions to accommodate everything from golf to pool cleaning to home building. But it’s not very different from similar shelter-inplace orders handed down by Los Angeles County and the state of Illinois.
Demings is trying to walk a fine line between keeping people away from each other while also trying to minimize the extent to which people can no longer earn a living or live their lives.
The shelter order follows Demings’ March 20 curfew order from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
But no matter how decisively individual local governments act in the face of state inaction, it’s not going to be as effective if they aren’t acting together.
To the south, Osceola County is acting to keep people inside, but to the north, Seminole County says it has no such plans. Neither does Lake to the west.
To the east, Brevard and Volusia counties aren’t planning stay-home orders, plus, their beaches remain open. Orange County residents who, feeling a little bored or restless, might be tempted to just jump in their cars and go enjoy themselves, meanwhile defeating the order’s intended purpose.
It’s a patchwork of rules that’s likely to diminish the effectiveness of cities and counties that are acting more aggressively to keep people in place for a limited period to slow the spread.
The local inconsistencies might be explained by polls that have shown sharp — though recently narrowing — differences in how people view the coronavirus threat, with Republicans less likely to view it as seriously as Democrats.
That’s consistent with the blue counties willing to act more restrictively — Orange, Osceola, Leon, Alachua — versus red counties showing more hesitation in acting — Lake, Volusia, Brevard.
Time’s running out. Cities and counties must reconsider their refusal to act. The argument to keep people separated to slow the spread is powerful and backed by science.
Please, Seminole, Lake and other Central Florida communities, do your duty to protect your people. Now. Before the hospitals are overwhelmed and before history records the names of those who didn’t do enough to stop others from suffering.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings acted decisively to slow the spread of coronavirus, unlike the governor.