Just hours after Florida governor Ron DeSantis finally issued a statewide stay-at-home order on Wednesday to stop the spread of the coronavirus, he signed a second order overriding any restrictions on movement or gathering put in place by local authorities.
The second order says that new state guidelines “shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to Covid-19,” The Tampa Bay Times reports.
This could allow for the megachurch whose pastor was arrested for defying a local order on large gatherings, to resume services, as local governments will not be able to enact any stricter limitations on movement or gatherings than that put in place by state authorities.
The state order specifically adds to the list of permitted “essential services” by including attending church services and outdoor activities such as golf — if undertaken with social distancing practices in place.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for holding two large church services on Sunday at The River at Tampa Bay Church in Hillsborough County in defiance of a local order and specific instructions from authorities to the church.
Andrew Warren, state attorney for Hillsborough County, said that it is unclear if large religious services with “500 people packed shoulder to shoulder” are now permitted.
“This has created a lot of confusion,” he said. “For reasons I can’t fathom, the governor is using his power to remove safe guards that Hillsborough County and other counties have put in place to save lives.”
The second order was signed just five hours after the stay-at-home order and quietly put onto the governor’s website, in stark contrast to the well-attended press conference and press release that accompanied the first order.
The nature of the order is also in stark contrast to the governor’s previous position on local versus state authority. Mr DeSantis had spent weeks insisting that there was no need for a state order and that local authorities knew best how to respond to stopping the spread of the pandemic.
Florida has almost 8,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 100 deaths have been recorded.