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Florida covid-19 cases surge to nearly 7,000 as Ron DeSantis resists statewide restrictions

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/1/2020 Fred Barbash

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“Longtime University of Miami healthcare employee dies from coronavirus.”

“Second man dies from coronavirus after attending Winter Party in Miami Beach.”

“Coronavirus cases in The Villages pass 40, with more than 110 in Lake, Sumter.”

The headlines in Florida leave no doubt that the state has become a coronavirus hotspot. It happened while traffic was backing up on some highways leading into the state due to checkpoints set up by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to screen New York and Louisiana drivers for infection.

And the daily reports from the Florida Department of Health drive the fact home: the number of people testing positive for covid-19 has accelerated rapidly, nearly doubling in the past four days, with 3,274 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 6,741 as of Tuesday evening.

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The state reported 857 people hospitalized and 85 deaths as of Tuesday, with the heaviest concentration of infection in Broward and Miami-Dade counties along the southeast coast and pockets in others areas like Tampa and Orange County, home of Walt Disney World. On Tuesday alone, 14 deaths were reported in the state, according to the Miami Herald. 

Indeed, on the covid-19 nationwide map maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of Florida just turned dark brown, the color signifying more than 5,000 cases. It’s now in the company of California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey as of Monday, the cutoff of CDC map data with Louisiana having crossed the 5,000 threshold Tuesday

Of those states, however, Florida is the only one that is not under a statewide “stay-at-home” order. DeSantis has urged people in Southeast Florida to remain at home and said this week he would issue a “safer at home” order codifying that advice.

Ron DeSantis wearing a suit and tie: Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Miami Gardens, Florida, on March 30. © Joe Raedle/Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty I Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Miami Gardens, Florida, on March 30.

On Tuesday, DeSantis said at a news conference that he had no plans to issue a statewide order because the White House had not told him to do so.

“I’m in contact” with the White House coronavirus task force, he said at a news conference, “and I’ve said, ‘Are you recommending this?’ The task force has not recommended that to me,” he added. “If any of those task force folks tell me that we should do X, Y or Z, of course, we’re going to consider it.”

For this, he won praise from President Trump who called him “a great governor who knows exactly what he’s doing.”

DeSantis made his comment at a news conference where reporters were allowed to sit six feet apart for the first time. Previously, he had briefed reporters crammed into a small room despite requests on March 20 from the state’s largest newspapers. 

Mary Ellen Klas, Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, was barred from a DeSantis news conference last week after requesting social distancing. 

DeSantis’s approach to the pandemic has attracted criticism since at least mid-March, when he said it was up to local governments, rather than him, to mandate closing of beaches filled with spring breakers.

DeSantis again pleaded powerlessness at his news conference and wondered how useful orders would be anyway. For example, he said that he had now closed some beaches at the request of local officials and people were gathering on them anyway.

“I was flying out of Miami yesterday,” he said, “looking at beaches with signs saying they were closed.

“Were there people out there? Damn right there were,” he continued. “It’s really up to the locals to deal with them one way or the other.

“ … It’s just unfortunate,” he said, “but no matter what you do you’re going to have a class of folks who are going to do whatever the hell they want to.”

He also suggested that Floridians didn’t need public health mandates because most were doing the right thing without them, in part because there just wasn’t much to do. “Everything’s pretty much closed,” he said. “It’s not like there’s anything to do."

DeSantis attracted national attention when he set up checkpoints to screen travelers from Louisiana and New York for the infection, saying that any he found would be ordered into quarantine for 14 days.


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