Florida's governor wants to avoid statewide coronavirus shutdown

Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, speaks about COVID-19 in Tampa as Dr. Scott Rivkees listens.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that he wants to avoid imposing a statewide lock down like many other states have done, saying he still believes targeting the counties hardest hit by the coronavirus for the most extreme measures is the preferable path.

DeSantis said about a third of Florida's 67 counties have no confirmed cases and another third have few, so he doesn't yet see the need to impose a near shutdown on their businesses that have been imposed in large counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach where the disease has spread into the community. Most of the counties with few or no infections are smaller ones along the state's northern borders or surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

DeSantis has ordered such statewide closures as bars and gyms and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery. Some counties have gone farther, closing not only nonessential businesses but also beaches, marinas and parks. State parks have been closed.

But DeSantis has not imposed a near-total statewide shutdown of nonessential businesses and bans on social gatherings that have been imposed in California, New York, Illinois and elsewhere.

Related: Four more deaths reported as coronavirus cases in Florida hit 1,227

He said he doesn't want to cause unnecessary financial hardship or create unintended consequences such as people fleeing the state and spreading the disease.

“In New York (City), when they did the stay-at-home order, what did people do? A lot of people fled the city and they are going to stay with their parents or fly (out),” DeSantis said during a press conference at The Villages, a retirement community of 80,000 residents north of Orlando. “We are getting huge amounts of people flying in. We are looking at how to address those flights.” He said he talked to President Donald Trump on Sunday night about that issue.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 1,200 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Florida and 18 have died.

Some Florida Democrats are calling on the Republican governor to impose a statewide stay-at-home order. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat elected statewide, said in a statement that she understands DeSantis is in a tough spot but any delay will lead to further spread of the disease.

“A piecemeal approach of closing certain communities and businesses risks sowing further confusion. I encourage the Governor to take this decisive action today to save lives and preserve Florida's economy for our shared future,” Fried wrote.

Related: DeSantis to issue executive order requiring 14-day isolation for those traveling from NYC area to Florida

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, has called a city commission meeting Wednesday by video call to discuss a possible citywide stay-at-home order and curfew. Suarez was diagnosed with the disease nearly two weeks ago, but said Monday he feels well and might soon be able to leave quarantine.

In heavily hit South Florida, the streets were mostly quiet Monday and businesses deemed nonessential closed. But the line was long at a gun shop outside Fort Lauderdale, as customers bought firearms and ammunition, saying they want to be prepared if society breaks down.

“You’ve got to have something to counter with or you’re a victim. It’s sad we’ve gotten to that point,” said George Carbonell, an Air Force veteran who said he was buying a handgun for his wife to carry in her purse. He also has a handgun and rifle at home, “just in case.”

“It’s getting crazy,” he said.

DeSantis said one of the biggest problems statewide is people who “put themselves first” by refusing to avoid large crowds.

MAP: County-by-county COVID-19 cases in Florida

"If you shut down the bar, they go to a house party. You have no beach, so they go to a sandbar, which is technically not the beach. I would say for those folks, you need to cool it. ... The more stuff you are doing, the more difficult and longer this may go," DeSantis said.

DeSantis also said he is leery about closing the state's day care centers because that will affect medical personnel and others who must work and need someone to look after their children.

“It is something we are looking at, but I don't think it is as easy as saying, ‘Shut all this down and things are going to work out,’" DeSantis said.

The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know

AROUND THE WORLD: CoronavirusNOW.com

Map of known COVID-19 cases: