Gov. DeSantis: Jacksonville doing ‘a great job’ handling the COVID-19 outbreak

Despite nationwide criticism of the opening of Jacksonville area beaches, on Wednesday the governor praised how it was implemented.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Addressing criticism that Duval County has received over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday afternoon praised the efforts of Jacksonville’s mayor and the residents.

“My hats off to Mayor Curry. My hat’s off to the people of Jacksonville in Northeast Florida for doing a great job, and for those who say you’re morons, I would take you over the folks who are criticizing you any day of the week and twice on Sunday,” DeSantis said.

Duval County has received criticism on a national scale from news outlets after the reopening of Jacksonville’s beaches. Photos showing thousands of people at the beaches when they first reopened Friday were trending on social media over the weekend with the hashtag #FloridaMorons.

“Some of them are friends living in Virginia and they called the governor an idiot," said Vita G., who was at the beach Wednesday. "But I think we are doing the right thing and we’re not high risk. We’re not New York.”

Mayor Lenny Curry has defended the decision and said the national outlets that covered the reopening of Jacksonville’s beaches sensationalized their headlines.

“They’ve done a great job at flattening the curb. They’ve done a great job of keeping folks out of the hospital, particularly the vulnerable, and I think that they deserve credit,” DeSantis said.

RELATED: Florida may use Jacksonville as model for reopening beaches

While Curry’s model was met with skepticism, it was well received by Re-Open Florida Task Force members who think it could be used as a model for their communities. That model is for beaches to only remain open during limited hours. It calls for beachgoers to only use the beach for exercise, no sunbathing and social distancing rules still apply.

“Let’s just hope numbers don’t spike. I think that’s the concern for everyone," said Brian W., who was visiting the beach. "We’re seeing people out, gathering and all that and the last thing we want to see is it go the opposite way.”

Companies to bolster COVID-19 testing in Florida

Florida will be able to increase by 18,000 a day the number of COVID-19 tests that can be processed, after the state signed contracts with two additional testing companies, DeSantis said Wednesday.

DeSantis told reporters in Tallahassee that he anticipates the companies will be able to provide results within a two-day period. The DeSantis administration did not immediately provide the names of the companies.

“These tests at these labs will primarily be where we send our samples that we collect in the long-term care and assisted living facilities and at the community-based walk-up sites,” DeSantis said.

Florida in recent weeks has taken steps to bolster testing. To increase testing in traditionally medically underserved communities, the DeSantis administration created walk-up sites in Broward and Duval counties.

DeSantis also announced last week that he was directing the Florida National Guard to lead efforts to test staff members and residents at long-term care facilities to try to stem the spread of the virus.

DeSantis said that in the last week the number of teams increased from 10 to 50. The state had 28,576 cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday evening, and 927 Florida residents had died, according to the state Department of Health. More than 26 percent of the deaths involved residents or staff members of long-term care facilities.

In all, 2,333 COVID-19 cases involved long-term care facilities, and more than 10 percent of those cases --- 248 ---- resulted in deaths.

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Award-winning broadcast and multimedia journalist with 20 years experience.