Liberty Partners would like to wish all mothers a Happy Mother's Day. We hope that you spend this time with family and friends and enjoy your time together.
Floridians' attention was on the state returning to a sense of normalcy this week, as Phase 1 of Governor Ron DeSantis' Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery began on Monday. Restaurants, retail establishments and small businesses are breathing a sigh of relief, as it appears the first week of 25% capacity was a success. Florida's healthcare industry also fared well this week, as a decline in new COVID-19 cases was seen, while hospitalization and fatality rates remained steady. Palm Beach County will enter Phase 1 on May 11, while Miami-Dade and Broward counties have their eyes on reopening in the near future. Local leaders from these counties will look to craft reopening recommendations that can be submitted to Governor DeSantis for final approval in the coming weeks.
The Governor also announced two executive orders this week in response to COVID-19. These executive orders ensure the safety of all Floridians while allowing hardworking individuals to return to work.
While hotels, motels and various lodging establishments have stayed open through the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing has remained constant - vacation rentals continue to be prohibited. Questions surrounding the ban on vacation rentals persist as these short-term rental properties pose a much lower risk of spreading the virus than hotels and motels. By using a short-term vacation rental, common areas such as a lobby or concierge desk are eliminated, therefore creating a safe and protected environment. As we move forward in the reopening process, the Expedia Group and vacation rental owners statewide urge the Governor to lift these unfair restrictions.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, firefighters and first responders involved in the devastating wildfires in Santa Rosa and Walton counties. While property and homes can be replaced, the utmost priority is ensuring that lives are protected. Our neighbors in the Panhandle are resilient and we know that these communities will come back stronger than ever before.
Read below to catch up on all of the key developments, events and client actions that took place across the state this week.
AMOUNT OF NEW COVID-19 CASES DECREASE AS STATE BEGINS TO REOPEN
With a total of 40,596 positive COVID-19 cases in Florida to date, the percentage of new cases continues to decrease, even as testing is extensively expanded across the state. While last week saw 4,550 new cases reported, 4,518 new cases were reported this week. The percentage of individuals hospitalized or dying due to the virus held steady, with hospitalization rates of 18% and death rates of 4%. Drive-thru and walk-up sites around the state are administering a high volume of tests with Florida having tested approximately 2.5% of the state's population. These testing methods - combined with antibody and serological testing - ensure that Florida is a leader in pandemic response and recovery.
While 64 Florida counties reopened for business this week, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties maintain a slower, methodical approach. With nearly 60% of statewide COVID-19 cases clustered in this region, county leaders look to outline reopening recommendations and present these recommendations to Governor DeSantis within the coming weeks. As previously mentioned, Palm Beach County has submitted recommendations to the Governor and will begin Phase 1 of recovery on May 11.
As beaches, parks, stores and restaurants reopen throughout the state, a key point of focus will be on the COVID-19 positivity rate trends. If the positivity rates continue to decrease, Florida will be in a good position to begin Phase 2 of the Governor's recovery plan. It is anticipated that if trends remain the same or continue to improve, the state is on track to enter Phase 2 by the middle of May.
To read more statistics and receive frequent updates, visit the Florida Department of Health's COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard.
Click the links below to learn more and remember that you are #SaferAtHome.
VACATION RENTAL GIANT VRBO URGES GOVERNOR TO OPEN VACATION RENTALS
Vacation rentals in Florida are "short term rentals" meaning they are rental under 6 months. These include houses, duplexes and condos and are largely single-family homes. Since the beginning of Florida's near "lockdown" due to the rise of COVID-19, vacation rentals have been banned for use in the state. In essence, these type of short-term rentals are the only type of public lodging establishment with limitations on occupancy.
Why hotels and motels were not also included in Governor DeSantis' Executive Order banning vacation rentals, is curious because unlike hotels, these properties have no common areas for guests to congregate in groups of more than 10 like lobbies and elevator waiting areas. More importantly, short term rentals typically have their own kitchens - which would be a much more controlled environment than a hotel. What is the difference between 10 people staying in a vacation home versus 10 people staying in five rooms at a hotel?
In a post-COVID-19 environment, short term rentals are going to be incredibly important for travelers. Guests want to be safe and would more likely want to be in a private property that can be completely controlled as to who can access, eat in it, etc. Vacation rentals are already licensed by the state of Florida and have inspection and sanitation standards. There is no reason that sanitation standards for all lodging establishments can't continue to be enforced and additional CDC guidelines or standards can be provided to all vacation rental licensees to display for consumers.
Short term rentals are vital in areas like the panhandle. Many owners of vacation homes use them as rentals for additional income and are desperate for income as they have lost jobs themselves or seen their housekeepers, managers and handymen lose their ability to make a living as well. As Florida heads towards the 2020 Memorial Day Weekend, many supporters of vacation rentals like Rep. Jayer Williamson are urging Governor DeSantis to reconsider his ban on vacation rentals and allow property owners to rent their properties on or before the May 25, 2020 holiday (to read coverage on Rep. Williamson's letter to Governor DeSantis.).
GOVERNOR DESANTIS ISSUES TWO MORE EXECUTIVE ORDERS
Governor DeSantis issued two executive orders related to COVID-19 this week. Executive Order #2020-114 extends Executive Order #2020-52 which declared a State of Emergency for the entire state due to COVID-19. Originally issued on March 9, Executive Order #2020-52 was set to expire or be extended by Governor DeSantis within 60 days, with the Governor choosing the latter. Executive Order #2020-114 will remain in effect for 60 days, unless amended by the Governor.
Issued by the Governor on Saturday, Executive Order #2020-120 expands Phase 1 of his Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery. Under the Executive Order, Palm Beach County will be allowed to enter Phase 1 of recovery and begin to reopen their economy on Monday, May 11. Additionally, the Executive Order authorizes barbershops, cosmetology salons and cosmetology specialty salons to resume services on Monday, May 11, as long as they adopt social distancing and safety measures outlined by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The decision to reopen salons and barbershops comes on the heels of many business leaders urging the Governor to take action on this issue.
VRBO LAYS OUT NEW VACATION RENTA SANITATION GUIDELINES
In a Friday press release, Vrbo announced new measures the vacation rental company is taking to ensure guests feel comfortable when it is time to rent a vacation destination. Upon working with government officials, travel experts and health professionals, Vrbo announced new cleaning and disinfection guidelines. These guidelines combine information from the CDC, WHO and Cristal International Standards to inform rental owners and property managers of sanitation measures they should take in between guest stays. Homeowners will be able to report if the rental has been cleaned with the disinfectant, if guests can have non-contact check ins and check outs and if the property has a 24-hour unavailability period between renters.
Vrbo is also introducing flexible cancellation search filters that will allow guests to have access to flexible cancellation policies when booking a vacation rental. Families can use search filters to find properties that offer full refunds upon cancellation by a certain date, while Vrbo will also highlight listings that have the most relaxed cancellation policies.
Finally, the company will give travelers suggestions for vacation rentals within driving distance by providing drivable destination locations to users within the Vrbo app. For more information on Vrbo's drivable vacation rental destinations, click here.
Owned by the Expedia Group, Vrbo is taking a proactive approach to reopening vacation rentals in the state and the team at Liberty Partners is thankful to represent Expedia Group and their companies Vrbo and HomeAway.
FLORIDA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE CONTINUES EXTENSIVE UPDATES AMID COVID-19
The Florida Chamber of Commerce - a Liberty Partners client - has been providing key resources and updates during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the Chamber's daily membership update this week, President and CEO Mark Wilson highlighted the gradual reopening of Florida's economy and measures that must be taken to ensure Florida does not experience a second wave of the virus. Members of the Florida Chamber are also encouraged to take a brief survey that will help guide the Chamber as the economy begins to restart. The daily updates provide a list of scheduled events that keep members and local chapters aware of upcoming meetings and webinars, as well as federal recovery program updates. The Chamber reminds Floridians to follow facts, not fear during this pandemic. We are grateful for the work that is being done by the Chamber during these uncertain times and continue to assist them in any way possible.
FAA DEVELOPS BEST PRACTICES FOR REOPENING ATTRACTIONS
On the heels of Governor DeSantis announcing his Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery, the Florida Attractions Association (FAA) has released an update for Reopening Florida's Attractions. FAA has crafted Best Practice Considerations that lay a foundation for reopening attractions in the state. With a primary focus on safety, the considerations provide an industry-wide framework that requires each attraction to adopt and adhere to CDC and OSHA guidelines, as well as social distancing guidelines that are required during the various statewide reopening phases. While opening public museums is a commendable start, FAA would like to see Florida's attractions reopened under an amended Phase 1 of the Governor's plan or under the upcoming Phase 2.
In addition to these efforts, FAA encourages their members to reach out to their respective state legislators to advocate for attractions across the state and urge the Governor to take action to reopen these attractions. Once the Governor decides to allow these attractions to reopen, each member of FAA will make an educated decision on how and when to reopen. With Florida's world-class attractions being a major driver of the state's tremendous tourism industry, it is imperative that attractions in the state have clear, concise operation guidelines. We are proud to represent FAA and look forward to the Governor giving industry guidance in the near future.