Guest opinion: We’ll get through this together

In one month, all of our lives have turned completely upside down.

Travel, businesses, communities and recreation, and more, have come to a screeching halt. The activities that paid our bills, connected us together and brought joy to our lives are on pause until the outbreak of COVID-19 in Florida is in check. And while this is the greatest challenge our world has faced in modern times, it is not insurmountable. I believe we can get through this — if we work together.

As you know, this virus spreads fast. It is carried by people and surfaces and often goes undetected for days. This virus is a serious risk to many citizens in Florida, including those — even me — who are over 65, as well as individuals with underlying health conditions. As we have seen in other nations, this virus has a strong potential to overwhelm our state’s health care system. And when the hospitals and health care workers don’t have the capacity to care for the ill, many patients who could have lived will parish.

This virus is a life or death situation.

Fortunately, we have a strong leader in Governor Ron DeSantis. I can personally attest that he and his staff are working around the clock consulting with health care experts, business leaders, community leaders and others to learn the full range of risks we face and understand the consequences of the actions we take. And with that, he’s making the most informed decisions about our health and well-being, often on an hour-by-hour basis based on incoming data.

This week, he announced the statewide stay-at-home order, requiring all Floridians who are not participating in essential activities to stay at home for the next 30 days. There are those who are critical of the Governor’s decision (on both sides of the issue), but I firmly believe that Governor DeSantis thoughtfully based his decision on all available information and concluded that the order is in the best interest of the citizens of this state at this time. The goal of this stay-at-home order is to stop the spread of infection — once and for all — so we can get back to work.

This executive order is just the latest in a series of actions Governor DeSantis has taken to guard our state. As you know, he already closed schools, restaurants, bars and health clubs, among others. He has encouraged social distancing and demonstrated ways for us to keep ourselves safe.

Some of his actions you may not be aware of, but they are important to supporting Florida families, Florida businesses and Florida students through this crisis. The Governor waived certain requirements for individuals to be eligible for Reemployment Assistance benefits. He activated the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans that offer up to $2 million in economic assistance to help small businesses overcome the temporary loss of revenue resulting from COVID-19. The Governor’s Department of Education released a set of resources to support online learning for families while schools are closed. These are just a few of the steps he has taken to help Floridians manage the challenges they now face during this difficult time.

What’s more, Governor DeSantis is working to ensure our health care system is prepared to manage the COVID-19 crisis as it grows. He has limited non-urgent health care services to ensure hospitals have the capacity to meet the demand when the infections peak. He has fast-tracked orders for equipment that hospitals need to care for Floridians and to protect their teams.

On the legislative front, the Legislature is currently not in Session (as our 2020 Legislative Session ended two weeks ago with the passage of the 2020-2021 budget and, as provided in the Florida Constitution, we will not be returning to Tallahassee until after the November election unless we are called into a Special Session). However, my colleagues and I are back in our districts on the front line of this battle participating in daily calls with the Governor’s office and state and federal agencies to provide them real-time feedback from constituents and local leaders. We are teleconferencing with local elected officials and communicating with constituents on everything from how to apply for unemployment or a small business loan to where to find toilet paper.

We understand that many Floridians have faced challenges with applying for unemployment and seeking job assistance. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has received an overwhelming volume of applications for unemployment and requests for assistance. I know that these circumstances are extremely stressful, and we want to support Florida families through this difficult time. We are working directly with the Department of Economic Opportunity to improve the process. The department is hiring 100 more staff members, partnering with call centers to manage calls and borrowing state employees from other departments to help out. They are also adding volume capacity to the website and developing a mobile app.

I am confident that our state’s leadership is doing everything we can to prepare, respond and support Floridians through this unprecedented global health pandemic and economic crisis. We can get through this — if we work together.

Take advantage of the resources available, but have patience as we work through the challenges. Abide by CDC guidelines. Follow the Governor’s Executive Orders and other guidance issued from state and local governments. The success of these measures is dependent on you and everyone else in this state. Let’s work together.

(Kathleen Passidomo (R, D-28) is the Florida Senate Majority Leader.)