Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he’s lobbied President Donald Trump to loosen travel restrictions from critical travel markets like Brazil and Europe, in hopes of jump-starting tourism into Central Florida and the state’s beaches.
Brazil and the United Kingdom account for two of the three largest international destinations for incoming travelers to Orlando, but arrivals were halted by federal travel restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Trump administration closed off U.S. travel to visitors from Brazil in May, after the president already banned entry from foreign nationals traveling from China, Iran, the United Kingdom and much of Europe.
DeSantis said he’s recently asked Trump to lift those restrictions.
“To shut it off entirely at this point, I think, is counterproductive. I think it would be very good for this part of the state to be able to have that travel back and I just don’t view that as something that is really going to alter the trajectory of COVID here,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis’ remarks came Tuesday at an appearance in Seminole County’s Heathrow community where he announced a $5 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to battle opioid addiction. With just one week to go until the election, the governor used the event in one of the state’s most closely-watched toss-up counties to praise Trump’s administration for awarding the grant to Florida and for leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Also among panelists joining DeSantis were Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, who chairs a statewide task force on opioid abuse, and Seminole State College trustee Bob Cortes. Both men are also on next week’s ballot, with Cortes running in State House District 30.
DeSantis said more people are becoming comfortable with air travel, and that airlines haven’t been linked to many outbreaks, unlike cruise lines, though the governor said he’d like to see ships sailing soon. With greater access to rapid virus testing now, companies or airports could use the tests to protect passengers and crews, he said.
“The virus is endemic. It’s not like if somebody comes, that’s going to be introducing what’s not [already there],” the governor said.
He also dinged Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert for his praise of strict lockdowns imposed in European countries in the early days of the pandemic.
“We should learn to see what works and what doesn’t, and certainly doing things like totally shutting down an economy just doesn’t work,” DeSantis said.
In announcing the federal grant dollars, DeSantis said the state would test a program that would help those struggling with addiction to painkillers develop new skills and find work.
About 80% of the federal dollars will be used to build an opioid navigation and employment center, expected to open next year, said Andrae Bailey, Founder and CEO of Project Opioid.
“Our community, like most in America, doesn’t typically offer help to people until they’re in an emergency room – or EMS finds them on the side of the road with no pulse and has to use Narcan to bring them back,” said Bailey, whose organization wrote the grant application. “That should not be the starting point for people to get help. This navigation center can help those people, but not exclusively those people. This will help people who try to seek help through the system. It means we are finally going to take responsibility for people who right now are dying in this opioid epidemic.”
Kate Santich of the Sentinel staff contributed.
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