Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to Tampa Thursday and met with Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss the efforts the state is making to fight COVID-19.
Pence’s visit coincided with a record-high number of confirmed cases in Florida, with more than 10,000 new infections reported Thursday by the Department of Health. Pinellas County had 388 new cases and eight more deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 180.
Speaking at a press conference with Pence and coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force Dr. Deborah Birx by his side, DeSantis echoed previous statements that the rising numbers are due to increased testing.
“When you’re testing 60,000 people a day, that’s going to generate a lot of additional cases,” he said. “If you go back to March when we faced the initial wave, we had very few tests. Now hospitals test anyone who comes in.”
DeSantis said he is considering new approaches to testing, including pooling tests in conjunction with universities. This technique allows a lab to mix several samples together in a pooled sample and then test the pooled sample with a diagnostic test. The state has also just received 34,000 vials of Remdesivir, according to Pence. DeSantis noted there is no shortage of PPE and said that there are 750 beds open in COVID-only nursing facilities.
People over 65 are doing a great job following CDC guidelines, DeSantis said, and that the lower average age among those infected can largely be attributed to community spread. That population, by and large, is much less prone to significant health consequences, he added.
Pence praised DeSantis’ leadership and pledged continual support to the state. He also said the country is in a much better place to confront the rising number of cases impacting Florida.
“We fully support your prudent steps in working to slow the spread and rising cases impacting Florida today,” he said. “We can flatten the curve and we’ll be working with you to make sure Florida has all the resources.”
As the conference wrapped, DeSantis touched on an earlier comment that because late May and early June were quiet in terms of infections, COVID-19 “kind of fell out of the news” and people weren’t as focused on its threat.
“When we went to Phase One in May, we had very low cases, low positivity, I think the media was trying to say the numbers were phony,” he said. “Now they like the numbers ’cause they’re higher. It’s funny how that works.”
Also Thursday, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio sent a letter to Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting that the administration shift its approach to measuring hospital bed capacity and expanding testing strategies.
“Specifically, hospitals should report the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital, the percent of those patients that are in an ICU setting, and the percent of the COVID-19 patients that are admitted for reasons apart from the coronavirus,” Rubio wrote. “I believe this information is vital to decision-makers’ ability to pinpoint dangerous hot spots and determine where additional resources may be needed.”
He requested a response by July 14.