TAMPA (WFLA) – Gov. Ron DeSantis claims he got it right when states with stricter coronavirus restrictions got it wrong, but his critics say he has prioritized the economic recovery at the expense of public health.

“We need to continue to put people back to work in a safe, smart, and step by step way,” the governor said when he unveiled the state’s reopening plans in Tallahassee on April 29, 2020.

Tuesday marked one year since the start of Phase One of reopening after much of the state stayed home during April 2020.

“I think it was a great decision probably to shut everything down, but I’m very grateful that our governor opened us back up when he did,” said Andrea Gonzmart from the Columbia Restaurant Group.

Owners of the oldest restaurant in Florida, Gonzmart said her family tried to strike a balance between being open and being able to keep employees and customers safe from the virus over the past year.

Instead of reopening right away on May 4, 2020, she said they took some extra time to welcome back staff and prepare for the new normal during a global pandemic.

By June 1, with mask wearing and social distancing measures, the Columbia Restaurant Group had reopened all of its restaurants in Tampa Bay.  

“It was a challenge like no other,” Gonzmart said. “There was no textbooks for any of us. We all just had to wing it.”

The Florida Department of Health had recorded more than 37,000 cases of COVID-19 and just above 1,600 deaths on May 4, 2020.

One year later, the total number of cases in Florida is approaching 2.3 million and more than 36,000 people have died after contracting the virus.

“If you think about what happened after May 4th last year, we had the summer surge we got up to 12 thousand cases per day and over 220 deaths per day that we were seeing,” USF Professor of Epidemiology Jason Salemi said. “In the winter surge we saw over 16 thousand cases per day and nearly 200 deaths per day.”

Salemi said the game changer a that has helped protect the most vulnerable is the vaccine rollout.

“Now we’re at only 8 percent of daily cases being among our senior population,” he said, “undoubtedly due to vaccinations.”

Gonzmart said she has observed more people feeling confident about going out to eat after getting vaccinated.

“When I think about the states that have still been closed, that are gradually still opening up,” she said, “my heart breaks for them. We were only closed for two months so for them to be closed for a whole year, I can only imagine what they’re going through.”