The Republican governor and staunch Trump ally admits he hasn’t read the state Surgeon General’s recommendations.
Despite state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees’ assessment that Floridians will have to go on practicing social distancing measures for a year or longer, until a vaccine is found, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he is creating a plan for the “resurgence and reopening of Florida.” But when asked about Rivkees’ strong recommendation, the Trump ally admitted on Wednesday that he hadn’t read Rivkees’ exact comments, but added that he’ll “have to have a conversation with him privately.”
Although he gave no names, the Republican governor mentioned that the task force would include people in government, business, and education.
Once again, DeSantis follows Trump’s lead as, despite recommendations from top health authorities, the president remains eager to “reopen” the country for business as usual in an attempt to assuage the economic impact on the economy caused by COVID-19. Like DeSantis, Trump has not named who will be part of his so-called “Opening the Country” task force, but has mentioned his daughter Ivanka, who he claimed created 14 million jobs in the US, while the country’s entire economy added 6 million, and son-in-law Jared Kushner as potential appointees.
A Very Dangerous False Sense of Security
In support of his plan to “reopen” the state, DeSantis -who for many weeks resisted issuing a stay-at-home order for the state despite pleadings from politicians and health authorities- credited state and local shutdown orders and social distancing measures for what appears to be a dip in the number of new cases of coronavirus in the state. However, health officials have warned that these numbers don’t tell the truth.
Although the state has reported under 1,000 new confirmed cases of the illness for two consecutive days, the lower number could be due to the state not reporting all of the positive results due to its huge coronavirus testing backlog. According to the Florida Department of Health (FDH), approximately 1,400 people statewide are still waiting for their results. Also, the state may take weeks to add to its official count the results of pending tests from private labs, which are completing more than 90% of state tests. For this reason, the agency cautioned that this number could be a “massive” undercount. In other words, nobody knows how many new cases of coronavirus there are in the state.
According to DeSantis, no major reopening of the economy will happen if the public decides that it doesn’t feel safe. But this is where the public’s ability to know the real number of new cases of coronavirus in the state literally becomes a matter of life or death. Despite DeSantis claims about the state’s transparency, the state’s significantly underreporting its huge novel coronavirus testing backlog could mislead the public about the real size of the pandemic and play a part in deciding when it’s safe to end restrictions such as stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures.
“We still don’t know everything about this coronavirus, and we obviously watch the data on an hourly basis, even a minute-by-minute basis,” DeSantis said during the conference. “But it obviously is prudent to start thinking about and planning for people getting back to work and getting society functioning in a more healthy way.”
Democratic Florida Congresswoman Donna Shalala, who served as Health and Human Services Secretary during the Clinton administration, together with a group House Democrats, plans to introduce a bill that would give states money if they meet a national standard that includes more testing and protective equipment to ensure infection rates don’t rise.