Local leaders want the governor to allow more local leeway for the coronavirus reopening.

As of Tuesday morning, the County Commission had not heard back from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office concerning the commission’s request for a more expansive reopening protocol in Marion.


Commission Chairwoman Kathy Bryant said she’s in regular communication with her counterparts in this region, and they are considering making a regional appeal to the governor. The planning for such a move could already be underway.


"Marion County is not alone" in its thinking, Bryant said during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled commission meeting.


DeSantis’ order, announced last week, stopped short of what Marion leaders wanted — and what the state’s reopening task force recommended.


Bryant publicly called out the governor last week, asking for more local control since Marion has not overwhelmed the local medical community. As of Tuesday morning, Marion had 193 positive COVID-19 tests and five deaths.


Among other things, local leaders would like to see restaurant dining rooms open to 50% capacity, not the current 25%. Gyms and salons remain closed, but local leaders would like to open them at 50% capacity, as well.


DeSantis has a news conference scheduled Tuesday in Sarasota. "We are hopeful he will give us different guidance," Bryant said during the meeting. But that did not happen.


Meanwhile, the effort to increase testing has gained new urgency. Preston Bowlin, the county’s emergency management director, told commissioners on Tuesday that the new goal is to test 7,000 Marion residents during May. To date, Marion has tested about 5,200, with about 4% testing positive.


The Florida Department of Health in Marion County is offering testing to everyone, regardless of symptoms or lack of symptoms. Appointments are required; call 644-2590 to be scheduled.


To help meet the testing goal, Bowlin said, the health department is setting up special plans to test employees of county government, the school system, the hospitals, and residents at three 55-and-older residential communities.


Bryant emphasized that Marion County residents must continue following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines: wash your hands, practice social distancing, stay home if you are sick, don’t gather in groups larger than 10, and wearing face coverings such as a mask where social distancing isn’t possible, especially indoors.


Adherence to these rules is what has allowed Marion to keep community spread to a minimum.


"We are not saying, ‘Drop your guard,’ " Bryant said.


Marion’s message, she said, is that the county can responsibly get businesses back going, and people back to work, all at the same time.


"We can do this," the chairwoman said.


Contact Jim Ross at jim.ross@starbanner.com