Gov. Ron DeSantis must issue an executive order to close beaches statewide, said a UF graduate in a lawsuit against the governor. Until he does, he said COVID-19 will continue to spread in the state.
Daniel Uhlfelder is a 1996 UF graduate and an attorney in Walton County, Florida in the state’s panhandle. He has a Twitter audience of nearly 108,000 followers and said he used his influence to pressure his own county into closing its beaches Wednesday. He hopes he can do the same to DeSantis.
Florida has reported more than 1,000 of COVID-19 and 13 deaths as of Sunday night, according to the state health department. In spite of recommendations to “social distance,” hundreds of people continue to congregate across Florida beaches.
“When I see hundreds of thousands of college kids and parents come to the beaches, it feels like I'm watching a death march,” Uhlfelder said.
Though he’s never been involved with such a high-profile case, Uhlfelder said he isn’t intimidated. Uhlfelder said he believes DeSantis is “inexperienced and a coward,” and the issue is too important for him to ignore. He filed the lawsuit Friday.
Uhlfelder said he fears that beachgoers, if not already infected, are being exposed to the virus and spreading it state and nationwide. He has taken to walking along beaches wearing a full-body hazmat suit to convey the urgency of his cause.
One day before Uhlfelder filed his complaint, DeSantis appeared on Fox News Thursday to dissuade “spring breakers” from coming to the state.
“The party’s over in Florida,” DeSantis said. “You’re not gonna be able to congregate on any beach in the state.”
DeSantis’ statements are misleading, Uhlfelder said. Only southern counties, some of the most popular beach spots in the state, have been ordered to close their beaches through executive order.
All other closures have been enforced by local municipalities, a decision that takes time and resources away from medical assistance, Uhlfelder said.
Uhlfelder traveled to the state capitol Wednesday to meet with the governor and discuss closing beaches. Upon arriving, he said he was told by an aide that DeSantis did not have time to meet and that Uhlfelder should come back the next day.
Uhlfelder did come back, but the capitol building had closed.
“You can’t meet with Ron DeSantis as a member of the public,” Uhlfelder said. “But you can go to any beach in Florida, basically.”
DeSantis’ office could not be reached for comment.
Contact Hannah Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @haphillips96.
Visitors enjoy Clearwater Beach, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Clearwater Beach, Fla. Beachgoers are trying to keep a safe distance from each other by keeping a space of 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) between family groups to help protect from the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)