WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday reaffirmed his commitment to keeping restaurants open in the state and criticizing other areas of the country like New York City where indoor dining has been suspended despite evidence that most coronavirus infections can be traced to small gatherings at homes.
"If a local leader wants to put them out of work, you’re damn right I’m hobbling them from doing that," he said during a news conference at the Okeechobee Steakhouse in West Palm Beach. "If they want to shut down businesses, I’m going to stand in the way. ... I don’t think government has a right to put these people out of work."
DeSantis met with restaurant employees and business owners to discuss "safeguarding the right to earn a living" as the pandemic persists. He noted that there are about 40 states that have higher COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations per capita than Florida.
"At a time when folks in our service industries, particularly in restaurants, lodging, and hospitality, have taken it on the chin, particularly in some other states that have been completely shut down, we just want to send the message — some may shut you down. We want to pull you up," DeSantis said.
DeSantis criticized New York City shutting down indoor dining Monday, noting that just 1.4% of cases are traced to restaurants and bars. The restaurant industry in the Big Apple is expected to take a greater hit as outdoor dining was forced to stop at most businesses preparing for a heavy snowstorm.
"We have to understand that the vast, vast majority of infections are occurring in people’s homes, particularly if you have people getting together, so closing a restaurant for indoor dining is going to lead to more people doing that in private homes anyway," DeSantis said. "Even if you think that it’s more than just 1.4%, the appropriate response is to inform people about situations where you may have a higher risk. Not to shut down. Let individuals make decisions about what they’re comfortable doing."
He commended businesses like Okeechobee Steakhouse that follow strict safety and sanitary measures.
"I’m very blessed to have Gov. DeSantis keeping us open," Theresa Hodgdon, a server and bartender who’s worked at the steakhouse for 14 years, said at the press conference. "I would have lost everything, so I’m a blessed mother and I hope that we can still stay open. Everybody do what they’re supposed to do. If you’re sick, stay home. If you want to come out, were are here for you and we are 100% committed."
Sharing a clip from the conference, DeSantis tweeted, "Thank you, Theresa, for sharing your story. I will keep fighting for your family and the right of all Floridians to continue earning a living."
FedEx and UPS filled planes and trucks with Pfizer's vaccine over the weekend to bring doses to over 600 locations across the U.S. Florida received nearly 180,000 doses.
This week, Florida began vaccinating its frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents. DeSantis says the general public may only be a couple months away from getting access too.
"Your general public, not necessarily high-risk, but you want to do it – I think where were going to be seeing that is once the Johnson & Johnson data is in. We’ll see how effective that is. If effective and safe, they will file for emergency-use authorization probably in January," Gov. DeSantis said.
On Thursday, Florida reported the highest single-day count of coronavirus cases since July with an increase of 13,148. It was also the third-highest since the numbers were first reported at the beginning of the pandemic.
Those figures bring the total number of cases reported in the state to 1,168,483, with the total number of Florida resident deaths at 20,305.
FOX News contributed to this report.