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State, local officials begin to plan for reopening, bringing back tourists

The question on everyone’s mind these days is when can we return to normal?

The federal and state governments are working on plans right now so we can get back to our lives and our jobs – and open up the economy again.

Our state is one of the hardest hit by the lack of tourism. One look at the bare beaches is all it takes to show the pandemic’s impact.

Experts say that although Florida is taking a hard hit, we will come back from this – it just might take some time to get there.

Earlier this year, beaches, bars and restaurants were packed.

“The first two months of the year we were seeing record-setting visitation and visitor spending, and it was all very positive,” said Jack Wert, executive director of Collier County tourism.

And now… “We lost over half of our season,” said Dr. Shelton Weeks, chair of economics and finance at Florida Gulf Coast University.

WalletHub released a study showing Florida ranked sixth among the most impacted states when it comes to the coronavirus and tourism. They focused on two things.

“The first being how dependent is the state’s economy on tourism and travel, and the second is a metric that considers how aggressive the state responded to coronavirus,” Weeks said.

Experts say it’s hard to pinpoint one part of the tourism business that’s been most affected, but they have noticed “occupancy in hotels right now is less than 10 percent. This time of year we would usually be over 90 percent,” Wert said.

Will our state recover?

“We will recover, but the question is what it looks like when we come back,” Weeks said.

The county said they’re ready to have visitors when the pandemic is over.

“We aren’t going anywhere. We know you’re not traveling now but the beaches are still beautiful and everything is here, we’re just waiting for you to be ready to come back,” Wert said.

Wert said the Collier County tourism bureau might start their advertising back up and try to slowly get things back to normal no earlier than late summer.

On a national level, President Donald Trump will announce his plan Thursday to get the country back up and running and get people back to work.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis will talk with Trump on Thursday about his plan to start reopening the state, but health experts caution it will be a slow process.

DeSantis is putting together a task force to plan the state’s reopening, much like the one Trump is putting together for his nationwide plans. He said those guidelines will be discussed Thursday with every governor in the country.

But Dr. Deborah Birx warns this does not mean it’s time to immediately resume social gatherings.

“There is always a chance that an asymptomatic person can spread the virus unknowingly,” she said.

Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. has passed the peak of new cases, and DeSantis said the trends are also being noticed in Florida.

It’s obviously prudent to start thinking about and planning for people getting back to work,” he said.

His task force will figure out the best ways of getting that done.

“People in elected office, people in business, people are involved in education and all kinds of things and get the best ideas about, you know, what’s the most prudent way to move forward,” the governor said Wednesday.

Other state leaders, while optimistic, are urging people to be realistic and expect a potential uptick with the changes.

“No matter how careful they are in making them [decisions], there are going to be increases in infections. There are going to be increases in the number of deaths,” said Sen. Marco Rubio.

DeSantis said Florida is such a big destination for people that he wants to come up with a plan to keep Floridians safe from visitors bringing in the virus. He said he wants assurances that anyone from a foreign country is tested or has antibodies.

His task force members will be announced by the end of the week.

Reporter:Taylor Smith
Justin Kase
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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