DeSantis says state won’t shut down again despite spike in COVID-19 cases

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives an update on the state's COVID-19 response. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After another record one-day high of new reported coronavirus cases Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he has no plans to shut down the state’s economy again.

During a press conference in Tallahassee, DeSantis again said the increases in cases are due to more testing being conducted combined with some spikes in agriculture communities, jails and long-term care facilities — not because the state decided to reopen portions of the economy in recent weeks.

“We’re not shutting down. We’re going to go forward we’re going to continue to protect the most vulnerable, we’re going to urge continue to advise, particularly our elderly population, to maintain social distancing and avoid crowds,” DeSantis said.

In the last 24 hours, Florida health officials reported 2,783 new cases. The six highest daily increases in Florida have come in the last week. It also marks the 14th day in a row of over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases. The Florida Department of Health reported the total number of coronavirus related deaths is now at 2,993 and the total number of reported cases is more than 80,000.

The number of tests conducted daily peaked three weeks ago and the percentage of positive tests is now over 6%, more than double the rate of 2.3% in late May.

DeSantis said Tuesday the big jump in testing numbers, which happened in late May, was due to a backlog of tests from private companies that all hit at one time, dropping the percent positive to around 2% for a week.

Though, that percent positive number has slowly increased in the last three weeks, according to data from the Department of Health shared by DeSantis.

Florida Department of Health data shared by Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

As of Tuesday’s report from the health department, Florida had administered a total of 1.46 million tests for COVID-19, but a person can be counted more than once in the overall testing number because patients often need multiple tests over days or weeks before they are cleared to return to normal activities.

The surge of cases so far this month coincides both with the reopening of Florida’s economy following the statewide Safer at Home lockdown and with an increase in the state’s testing capacity. The total number of tests administered has gone up by 28.6% in that same two-week period, but that is the number of tests, not the number of people tested.

The percent of positive results has ranged from 4% to 9% over the past two weeks and was 7% on Sunday. The positive cases the state lists are only for the first time the patient tests positive.

Earlier Tuesday in Tallahassee, a group of physicians called on the Governor to mandate the use of face masks in order to stop further spread.

Physicians in the state’s capital believe after three solid months of pandemic panic Floridians are beginning to drop their guard — and their masks.

“You may not like wearing a mask, but it beats wearing a ventilator,” said Dr. Ron Saff, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

More than 10,000 cases have been reported in the last week alone.

“If we do not do better in responding to this spread another 100,000 people or more may die of the same disease,” said Dr. Howard Kessler President of PSR-FL.

They’ve asked the Governor to make face masks mandatory in public places by issuing an executive order. The physicians said by simply wearing a face mask you’re six times less likely to spread or contract the virus. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have mandatory face mask requirements in public spaces.

DeSantis balked at the idea of mandating masks when asked during the press conference and pointed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

“I just don’t think that that’s a reasonable thing, certainly under penalty of law, to do,” DeSantis said. “I would definitely encourage people when you’re in, whether it’s a business situation, like in a restaurant. In terms of forcing that under penalty of criminal law, you know, we’re not going to be doing that. I think it would be applied unevenly and I just don’t think it would end up working at the end of the day. We should be trusting people to make good decisions.”

DeSantis said the state will continue to aggressively test the over 300,000 residents and employees at long-term care facilities, some of the hardest-hit segments of Florida’s population. He said the state will aim to test every employee at the facility every two weeks.

“I think it makes sense that if you keep it out of [long-term care facilities] then you are keeping the virus out of the most fragile segment of our society. Right now nationwide, it’s probably over 50% of all the COVID related fatalities had been linked to long-term care facilities,” DeSantis said.

Florida COVID-19 fatalities Non-Long-Term Care Facilities (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.