DeSantis was heavily criticized for waiting longer than most governors to institute a statewide lockdown. He seems determined to blunt any criticism about how the state is reopening.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis received a lot of criticism for waiting longer than most governors to institute a stay-at-home order to contain the coronavirus, and he didn’t forget it.

In late April, as it become obvious that models predicting Florida’s health care system would be overwhelmed by coronavirus patients were off, DeSantis began pushing back hard at his critics and media reporting on the models.

The governor noted that the dire predictions from a month earlier did not materialize. Florida has plenty of available hospital beds and the daily number of coronavirus cases has leveled off and appears to be declining.

DeSantis declared that Florida was ready to start plotting a path to reopen.

https://twitter.com/GovRonDeSantis/status/1256214452363460610

We need to focus on facts and not fear. They said Florida was going to be just like New York or an “Uber Italy” when it came to hospitalizations and fatalities. This was wrong. It’s time to focus on the facts and follow a safe, smart and step-by-step plan for recovery. pic.twitter.com/tCksZJ05a3

— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) May 1, 2020

While the worst has not come to pass in Florida, the state still has seen 33,690 coronavirus cases and 1,268 deaths. Many people are still very concerned about the virus and eager to see a reopening plan that puts public health at the forefront.

If being too slow to enter the lockdown was a concern for health experts, so is being too fast to come out of it.

So in announcing the first phase of his reopening plan this week, DeSantis has emphasized safety and caution. Florida will not be like Georgia and kick the doors open at businesses across the state, throwing caution to the wind.

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Instead, DeSantis labeled his plan a “safe” and “smart” approach that proceeds “step by step.” He also used words like “deliberate” and “methodical” to describe the first phase of reopening as he seeks to convince people he is not acting rashly.

Florida will start to reopen Monday, but bars, hair salons, movie theaters and gyms will stay closed. Restaurants and retail shops will operate at 25% capacity. And the full lockdown order will remain in place for three hot-spot counties in Southeast Florida.

Leading Republicans rallied around the governor’s reopening plan, but more notable were the words of encouragement from the state’s leading Democrat.

“I am encouraged by this cautious approach, and I agree that Florida's re-opening must be measured, in phases, and based on science and data,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat and a sharp critic of DeSantis during the coronavirus crisis.

The past 2 months have been difficult and many of us have experienced hardships and uncertainty. My Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery will lead to our state’s next phase. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. pic.twitter.com/J16Ggyx4B0

— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 30, 2020

The measured reopening follows a pattern for DeSantis, who has recalibrated in the past in the face of criticism.

During the 2018 governor’s race, DeSantis went hard right in the GOP primary against former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, slamming him on issues such as immigration.

The general election was an epic match of two extremes as DeSantis squared off against liberal Democrat Andrew Gillum. Heading into the race, DeSantis was accused of making a racist remark about Gillum, who is black. The contest only got nastier from there.

DeSantis emerged victorious, but with many voters — especially Democrats — viewing him negatively. He immediately set about on a campaign to win over skeptics and appeal across the aisle with a populist agenda that included allowing medical marijuana to be smoked, boosting funding for environmental initiatives and pushing a big pay raise for teachers.

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DeSantis’ early agenda made him one of the most popular governor’s in the nation, but his response to the coronavirus outbreak has put a dent in that popularity.

How DeSantis handles the state’s reopening could be a key part of his legacy moving forward.

A Quinnipiac poll found 76% of Florida voters believe “reopening Florida's economy should happen only when public health officials deem it safe.”

With public health officials saying Florida’s reopening should proceed slowly and with caution, that’s exactly the message DeSantis is trying to convey.

The governor traveled to the White House this week to get President Donald Trump’s blessing for his approach, which should help limit any criticism from conservatives that he’s not acting quickly enough to restart the economy.

That buys him some time to take it slow and get the state to a better position on testing.

The biggest concern about reopening is that Florida still is not conducting enough testing to keep the virus in check.

“My concern at the moment is the adequacy of testing capacity within the state and the ability to really actually monitor what’s going on,” Dr. Glenn Morris, the director of the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, said Monday.

Broad testing that includes people who do not have symptoms allows public health officials to monitor the virus and limit its spread by isolating those who are infected and their contacts.

Public health experts say Florida needs to be testing about 150 people a day for every 100,000 residents.

ICYMI, today I laid out Phase One of my Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery. https://t.co/ANwko4bGhZ

— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 30, 2020

That adds up to testing 31,800 people every day in a state of 21.2 million. But the Florida Department of Health reported receiving 14,415 test results a day on average over the last week.

Boosting testing and contact tracing, which involves tracking down the contacts of infected individuals and isolating them, is viewed as critical to keeping the virus contained. It could be key to whether the governor’s reopening plan is a success, something DeSantis seems to recognize.

“Part of our strategy in phase one is to expand testing beyond what we’ve already done,” the governor said Wednesday in announcing his plan.

DeSantis has claimed an early victory over the virus as he works to reopen, but this may only be the first battle in a longer war.

The ultimate judgment on how Florida fared during this pandemic is yet to come, and how the governor handles this reopening may be critical.

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