ORLANDO, Fla. — Vice President Mike Pence met with industry leaders and Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday to talk about reopening Florida, particularly its tourism industry, at a roundtable discussion in Orlando.
What You Need To Know
- VP Pence attending tourism discussion in Orlando
- Pence visit centered on COVID-19, Florida's reopening
- VP in Orlando same day Disney Springs begins phased reopening
- RELATED: VP Pence Talks Economy, Election With Spectrum News in Orlando Visit
Air Force Two landed at the Orlando International Airport at 11:25 a.m. on Wednesday. The vice president met with DeSantis, had lunch at a Beth's Burger Bar location, delivered personal protective equipment to a nursing home, and then joined representatives from the hotel, restaurant and theme park companies at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel.
The group is meeting to discuss plans by local hospitality and tourism industry leaders for reopening, as the industry in Central Florida has been shut down over the past two months because of the COVID-19 crisis.
"Seems over simplistic, doesn't it? If we don't get people back to work quickly, it's all over," said hotelier Harris Rosen, who advocated for screening both visitors and employees to make sure they were not sick.
Rosen also said hotels were in a deep depression, and urged DeSantis to proceed to phase 2 of reopening as soon as possible.
"Let the owners of the establishment do what they believe is appropriate," Rosen said. "If they are sloppy and people enter the establishment and they're concerned, they will not patronize that facility. Isn't that what free enterprise is all about?"
Theme Park Leaders Talk Reopening Plans
Pence is in Orlando on the same day Disney Springs began its phased reopening.
Disney official George Kalogridis said the company was taking learning points from its reopening in China of Shanghai Disneyland.
John Sprowls of Universal Studios Florida explained to Pence what steps his company has taken in reopening its CityWalk area, including temperature checks and masks.
“If people feel safe, if people feel we’re doing it responsibly, they’ll come,” Sprowls said.
Universal is expected to submit its reopening plan to Orange County's reopening task force on Thursday.
Meanwhile, SeaWorld Orlando said it was planning to reopen at the end of June.
Dr. Alan Fyall, the associate dean of Academic Affairs at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, thinks Pence will be impressed with how things are going so far in our region.
"How organized, how consistent, and how collective the Central Florida industry is. Mayor (Jerry) Demings' task force has been very, very thorough. I think he will see it as a model for the nation to be honest," Fyall said.
Many hope that with Pence's visit, tourist attractions can open back up. Chuck Whittall on Tuesday believes it is time to safely open tourist attractions back up to Florida residents, like those on Orlando's International Drive such as the Wheel and Starflyer at ICON Park.
He says about 200 people work at them and depend on them being open for their livelihoods.
“Just like the hair salons and the restaurants, their livelihoods have to be restored, so do the smaller attractions. There’s giant investments we all have in these attractions on I-Drive, and for now we can at least bring Florida residents,” said Whittall, a developer.
Whittall has a project called O-Town West, a $1 billion development at Daryl Carter Parkway and Palm Parkway, west of Interstate 4 and SeaWorld Orlando.
Pence Delivers PPE to Nursing Home
Also part of Pence's itinerary was a stop at a nursing home to drop off personal protective equipment, something he's done in visits to other cities.
It included boxes of gloves, masks, and gowns to protect both staff seniors there.
“There is a shortage of personal protective equipment, so any that we can receive we are most appreciative to have,” said, executive director Tom Rockenbach.
He said they were humbled by being chosen for the visit.
“Their visit here today absolutely highlights the importance of not only the personal protective equipment, but also the fact that this disease is to be taken serious,” said Rockenbach.
There are about 150 senior residents at Westminster Baldwin Park. The campus is part of the Westminster Communities of Florida, which has 7,000 senior residents across the state.
“The residents we serve are of course at a very high risk population, and we’ve been very fortunate not only here on this campus but throughout our organization to have zero cases of COVID as we speak,” Rockenbach added.