ORLANDO, Fla. – Flanked by doctors at an Orlando Health hospital, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a Sunday press conference that he plans to make big announcements soon that involve the state’s overwhelmed unemployment system and the eventual reopening of the state’s economy.
DeSantis did not give a date as to when he expects Florida to start reopening its shuttered businesses but said: “we’re gonna make an announcement pretty soon.”
“Obviously, I mean, because we’re coming up at the end of the month, and we’re going to do it, but I think when you look at kind of the guidelines The White House has put out, I think that that’s a pretty good roadmap,” DeSantis said. “I’ve said many times, I’d rather do it smartly and safely and methodically...Even if you could flip the switch, if people don’t have confidence, then the economy is not just going to take off. It’s not the way it works.”
The current stay-at-home order in Florida expires April 30.
So far, there have now been about 267,000 unemployment payments sent out, DeSantis said Sunday, a huge increase from the total number of payments that went out all of last year. The unemployment system has been stressed over the past two months as hundreds of thousands of Floridians went to the state for help after losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Many have reported issues with applying for assistance and delays in payments.
“Look, this thing that was done on this just before I was governor, but they spent $77 million on something that is really, really a flawed product and so it’s required a lot of 24-7 technical work to be able to get going. So this weekend they’re working hard to process things that have been held up, and I hope to have a fresh announcement on Monday,” DeSantis said. “People should understand that this has been a tsunami that this system was not built for.”
DeSantis also spoke about the state’s continued response to COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities. He said that while there are a large number of facilities in the state, the state’s rate of 1.2 fatalities per 100,000 residents is still much lower than other states like New York, Massachusetts and Louisiana.
As of Sunday, nearly 3,000 Florida residents and staff at long-term care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19 and 311 have died, according to the Department of Health. DeSantis said that task forces led by the Florida National Guard will continue to test and monitor the facilities.
Reiterating that the curve has been flattened in Florida, DeSantis also said that data shows hospitalization rates have decreased across Florida and expanded testing shows a decline in the rate of those testing positive for COVID-19.
The governor said in the briefing that the “hysteria” in the early weeks of the outbreak has not materialized in Florida, despite dire predictions that speculated many more deaths than the 1,000 the state has thus far recorded.
DeSantis said keeping consistent testing at places like Lot J, the Prime Osborn Convention Center and the new walk-up testing at Kooker Park will help keep track of how the virus is moving.
“We do think it’s important to have as robust testing as possible,” he said.
Close to 80,000 tests have been done at seven drive-through sites across the state, DeSantis said. In Jacksonville, the numbers of tests, criteria and operations have all changed over the last few weeks, all things the governor says will help flatten the curve.
“Our capacity to test exceeds the demand for the testing and I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “We saw this first in North East Florida in Jacksonville where the first couple days we had about 250 people a day then it started dropping off and so then they expanded the criteria for broader for people to come in. He started to see more when they were coming but the demand has been relatively tepid but that’s a good sign because that means a lot of people are not necessarily symptomatic.”
He said when increasing the testing you will find more cases, but the percentage of people testing positive is declining, a possible sign the virus isn’t replicating.
Friday, Jacksonville added a walk-up testing site a Kooker Park. Working with the University of Florida, the state provided swabs and testing kits. Up to 200 tests are available at the site. On Sunday, 166 people were tested at Lot J and 108 people were tested at Kooker Park, the city said.
The city said more sites will open in other neighborhoods soon, and the city is also working on two drive-up sites in Walmart parking lots.
During a news conference Saturday, DeSantis said that he’s ordered the Department of Health to buy high-throughput machines.
“We have three state labs: Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami, and they do a good job but they’re only processing hundreds of samples a day as their maximum,” DeSantis said Saturday.
DeSantis said the labs in the State of Florida should be able to do about 10,000 samples a day. He said the machines should arrive in May, and he hopes to have the testing in place “by the summer.”
The governor said it’s been confirmed that the state will also have the antibody tests that were ordered. They’re scheduled to arrive next month.