Florida governor Ron DeSantis has no plans to roll back the reopening of the state, citing increased testing and disproportionately high numbers among at-risk populations as key reasons COVID-19 numbers are rising.
“You have to have society function. That’s the best way to be able to deal with the impacts of the virus,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Tallahassee Tuesday. “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.”
The state reported 2,783 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the highest-ever total for a single day. Record numbers of cases have been reported four times in the last six days.
In a series of charts and graphs, DeSantis outlined the expansion of mass testing in high-risk environments. While long-term care facilities have been closely monitored since the onset of the pandemic, the state is now increasing mobile lab testing in migrant and farm worker communities and prison populations, which he said have uncovered large pockets of positive cases.
DeSantis shared an example of a migrant worker from Miami who traveled to a watermelon farm in Alachua County. The state tested 100 workers who were closely connected to him and 90 of them tested positive, the majority of whom where asymptomatic.
“When you have workers like that, they’re living in really close confines and sometimes multigenerational, but real close extended contact in those living conditions is really conducive for having this spread,” he said. “And then look, 90 percent. Ninety positive cases in one round of testing in our drive-through sites would take you several days to get to 90 positive cases. Probably the whole week you couldn’t get to 90 at most of them.”
DeSantis also talked about the testing protocol for long-term care facilities. A new directive from the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration issued an emergency rule mandating the testing of all staff and residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Referencing a graph, DeSantis said that since the second week in April, “you’ve seen a pretty steady decline in the general public in terms of COVID-linked fatalities, and the bulk of the COVID-linked fatalities have been, certainly since the beginning of May, they’ve overwhelmingly been in the long-term care facilities.”
Reopening visitation to long-term care facilities is a priority, but DeSantis wants to ensure it’s done in the safest possible way.
“That’s a high-risk environment,” DeSantis said. “If you have people in without the proper protections, then you could spark an outbreak that could have a lot of health consequences.”
In regard to the higher numbers of positive cases in the 25- to 35-year-old age bracket, DeSantis said he expects to see more. He noted that two months ago, many of these people would have been unable to get tested without a doctor’s note.
“Now they’re in situations where their employer can tell them to go get a test,” he said.
DeSantis voiced support for wearing masks and gloves in restaurant and business settings where social distancing isn’t possible, but reiterated previous statements that mask-wearing is probably not necessary in outdoor settings. That’s why he doesn’t expect to see a lot of positive cases coming out of the recent protests.
“My view is when you’re outdoors like that, I think it’s probably less likely this thing spreads very much,” he said. “We’ll just have to see.”
In terms of a future shutdown, DeSantis said it won’t happen and doesn’t believe it would impact the numbers of positive cases or increase hospital bed occupancy, which he says has not been strained by COVID-19. However, he supports restaurant owners who choose to shut down due to positive cases, because “they’re making decisions to keep their people safe.”
“At the end of the day, we should be trusting people to make good decisions,” DeSantis said. “Floridians have shown they can do that thus far and they’ll continue to do that in the future.”