TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and gubernatorial hopeful, challenged Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference Wednesday discussing the state’s surging COVID-19 cases.
“We are very much still in the middle of a major public health crisis in this state,” said Fried, who added that she’s stepping up to deal with the pandemic because, as she put it, the governor won’t.
The news conference came two days after DeSantis held a private roundtable and cast doubt on whether face masks would help public schools keep the spread of COVID-19 at bay.
“Our confidence in some of the pediatric leadership and some of the medical leadership has been shattered by how these people have reacted to this pandemic,” DeSantis said Monday.
Fried, the governor’s potential challenger in 2022, had a different message she asked Floridians to follow new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and wear masks indoors, whether they’re vaccinated or not.
“These are things that we already know,” Fried said. “We’ve been living with this for almost a year and a half.”
The agriculture commissioner also recommended that parents listen to the CDC’s guidance when they send their children back to school in a few weeks.
“Buy different types of masks, whether it is with dinosaurs or their favorite cartoons,” she said. “You know this is maybe an inconvenience to them, but I’d rather it be a small inconvenience that you can make fun” than risk them getting sick.
Fried said said all that she and local governments can do is encourage residents to wear masks and get vaccinated.
The Florida Legislature took mandates and fines off the table during this past legislative session. And DeSantis has warned that he’ll order a special session if the federal government imposes any mask mandates affecting Florida.
Fried acknowledged the challenge officials face convincing the 40 percent of eligible Floridians who so far have said no to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. She noted that 95 percent of those hospitalized or dying have been unvaccinated.
“Eventually these individuals are going to know family members and friends who are in the hospitals and it may take that to be a wakeup call to so many people,” she said. “I’m hoping that we can prevent that.”
Fried also called on Gov. DeSantis to resume daily COVID data reporting.
A spokesperson for the governor issued this statement in response to inquiries about Fried’s remarks:
“The COVID data that Nikki Fried discussed today is reported to the CDC every day by the Florida Department of Health. Therefore, the state is in fact providing that data — where else would she have gotten it? It is not ‘hidden’ or obfuscated in any way, and it’s regrettable that a Florida elected official would imply that DOH is doing anything improper in terms of COVID reporting. The data is publicly available, though it’s not clear why Fried is presenting it with her own commentary, because she isn’t a doctor, epidemiologist, or public health specialist.”