WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County commissioners said Tuesday they will send a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking him to move forward with the first phase of reopening.
Currently, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are excluded from all areas of Phase One of the plan, with the exception of elective surgeries.
Under Phase One, which started on Monday, restaurants and retail shops across Florida can operate at 25% capacity.
Commissioner Hal Valeche called for a vote to ask DeSantis to disassociate Palm Beach County from Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and allow Palm Beach County to be added to Phase One of the reopening strategy.
Valeche called the first phase a "baby step" and said Palm Beach County shouldn't delay in entering that phase.
Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth and Commissioner Melissa McKinlay both sided with Valeche in supporting a Phase One reopening. However, McKinlay admitted the county needs to make sure social distancing guidelines are followed to protect seniors.
"From what we are seeing here in the statistics, 100% of us are sacrificing for essentially 20% who are really vulnerable to the complications to this virus," Weinroth said. "We have all made the sacrifice in the realization that it was a group of our residents that would die if we allowed this thing."
Valeche argued that restrictions should be lessened for younger residents and should stay in place for those who are more at risk, like people over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions.
But Dr. Alina Alonso, the health director for Palm Beach County, said that wouldn't work because it's the younger population that's spreading the virus.
"You are correct that we are making a sacrifice. Everybody is making a sacrifice for not having a large loss of life and not overburdening health care providers," Alonso said.
Mayor Dave Kerner said they can make a recommendation to DeSantis, adding that Palm Beach County has full authority to open on its own terms and is not locked in with what Miami-Dade and Broward counties are doing.
Commissioners will also hold an emergency meeting Friday to discuss reopening Palm Beach County beaches.
Outside of Tuesday's meeting, about a dozen protesters from the group Reopen South Florida held signs, urging the governor and commissioners to lift restrictions against businesses in Palm Beach County.
Representatives of “Reopen South Florida,” outside the @pbcgov Commission Meeting requesting restrictions to be lifted against businesses and beaches in the county. @WPTV @FOX29WFLX pic.twitter.com/RE7SoJYwKr— Chris Gilmore (@thechrisgilmore) May 5, 2020
"They need to open up now. We haven’t heard from them. They haven’t met together for three weeks. We don’t know who’s making the decisions. We don’t need phases. We need to open up now," Boynton Beach resident Kevin DeLuca said.
"My focus is there is a process in opening up this county," Mami Kisner said. "We can’t just be open overnight because of the effects and the deaths that are happening."
At a news conference in Tallahassee last week, DeSantis said a majority of the Phase One guidelines won't apply to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties "for the time being" because of the high number of coronavirus cases in those areas.
"These counties have seen the lion's share of the state's epidemic, but they are trending in a positive direction," DeSantis said. "I am working with them and will continue to work with them, and I do believe that they will be able to move to Phase One very soon."
DeSantis praised the three South Florida counties for their decision to reopen parks, boat ramps, golf courses, community pools, and other recreational activities.
"I think we're gonna be able to get them there relatively soon," DeSantis said. "We want to get them going, I think we have a good path to do it, but it's gonna be on a little bit different timetable than the rest of the state."
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 3,390 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County, including 205 deaths.