TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Under fire from critics who say he is letting Florida’s coronavirus outbreak get out of control, Gov. Ron DeSantis is playing down the state’s increase in new cases in recent weeks, attributing it to more testing among low-risk individuals and saying he won’t roll back reopening efforts.
“We’re not shutting down, we’re gonna go forward, we’re gonna continue to protect the most vulnerable,” the governor said during a press conference Tuesday.
DeSantis added that “the negative effects” of shutting down again would be much worse than “any gains you’re getting.”
“You have to have society function, you have to be able to have a cohesive society, that’s the best way to be able to deal with the impacts of the virus,” DeSantis said. “But particularly when you have a virus that disproportionately impacts one segment of society, to suppress a lot of working-age people at this point I don’t think would likely be very effective.”
Florida had another record day Tuesday with 2,783 additional confirmed cases of coronavirus, the largest single-day increase yet, pushing the state’s cumulative count past 80,000.
The rise in new cases prompted Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, to send out a blistering statement slamming the governor’s handling of the crisis.
“Today’s record-high new cases makes it clear: Governor DeSantis has lost control of Florida’s COVID-19 response,” Fried said. “His policies are simply not working, and he’s recklessly reopening Florida despite the data screaming for caution.”
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But DeSantis noted that many of the new cases are younger people who are less at risk of becoming seriously ill. He went through a slideshow presentation detailing outbreaks at migrant farmworker camps, among construction workers and among prisoners, and said few people had symptoms in these examples.
“You’re expanding testing, which is important but you’re also going into now, which the state was not doing two months ago, into high-risk environments,” DeSantis said.
The governor noted that the median age of those infected has dropped significantly, and said identifying asymptomatic young people with the infection will help “stop the spread” because they will be isolated.
The governor also noted that the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital intensive care unit beds and on ventilators has gone down significantly over the last 60 days. He said there are 6,400 ventilators “sitting idle.”
DeSantis stressed that nobody in Florida under 18 has died of the disease, and he highlighted the steady decline in the number of deaths not tied to nursing homes.
“From the general public’s perspective to understand the risk I think is very important,” DeSantis said.
Another 55 deaths reported Tuesday brought the number of fatalities from COVID-19 to 2,993, the state Health Department said.
Florida has been on a two-week upswing in cases that corresponds both with DeSantis’ expanded economic reopening of the state and an increase in the daily number of tests being conducted for the virus.
The state has so far administered almost 1.5 million tests, with about 5.5% proving positive for coronavirus. While that positivity level had begun to decline during May, it has ticked slightly upward most days since DeSantis pushed the state further open June 5 — except in South Florida counties where the disease has been most prevalent.
Tuesday’s record level of daily cases followed a series of high daily marks reached at the end of last week through Saturday.
Florida now has had 15 straight days of an additional 1,000-plus daily cases, with an unprecedented more than 2,000 daily cases reported Saturday and Sunday before the latest record.
Last week, the Republican governor touted plans to reopen schools on campus in the fall, announced that Brevard County will host the AAU Junior Olympic Games in a few weeks, and Jacksonville being selected as the site for a major portion of the Republican National Convention in August.
The decision came after President Donald Trump balked at calls by officials at host site Charlotte, N.C., for a more restrained convention.
Florida is among 22 states where daily caseloads of coronavirus now are on the increase.