Though the White House coronavirus task force report puts Florida in the “red zone” for high COVID-19 spread, Gov. DeSantis has ruled out new business restrictions.
Even as he was making the case for no new business restrictions, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office failed to publicize a report about the state of the pandemic in Florida.
A Dec. 6 report from the White House coronavirus task force obtained by the Center for Public Integrity strongly urged state leaders to take immediate action to slow down the virus’ spread.
The report called for officials to increase physical distancing by closing or severely limiting indoor dining, limiting capacity at bars, and limiting gatherings outside of immediate households. It also said people should wear masks at all times in public, among other preventive measures.
Yet despite the task force making the case that such restrictions do slow the spread of the virus, and its recommendations to the state to increase its policy response to COVID-19, during a Tuesday press conference at Okeechobee Steakhouse in West Palm Beach, De Santis assured restaurant owners that he won’t shut them down.
“We just want to send the message, some may want to shut you down, we want to pull you up,” said DeSantis, who has ruled out any further business restrictions.
Since September, Florida has been in phase three of reopening, allowing all businesses to open and lifting all COVID-19 state-level restrictions. It also preempts local governments’ abilities to close businesses and fine individuals who fail to comply.
Numbers Tell the Story
The report obtained by the Center for Public Integrity puts Florida in the “red zone” for high COVID-19 spread and calls the state’s community spread “unrelenting.” It also says the state’s current efforts to stop the spread are “inadequate.”
Similarly, a Dec. 10 analysis by the Tampa Bay Times shows that in the fall, new coronavirus cases started spiking in the state and that “there are no signs of the trend changing course.”
The numbers tell the grim story: on Dec. 17 the Florida Department of Health reported 13,148 new coronavirus cases and another 101 new resident deaths linked to COVID-19. The Florida Department of Health has only twice before reported single-day totals higher. One was 13,965 cases on July 16, and the record: 15,300 on July 12.
“If we don’t see a change in trajectory, we could see a very difficult time coming forward,” Dr. Andrew Myers, Tampa General Hospital COVID-19 care head, told the Times on Nov. 7.
Warnings for Winter
A “significant behavior change of all Americans” will be needed to slow the virus’ spread through the winter, when respiratory diseases like the coronavirus thrive, the Dec. 6 White House coronavirus task force report stated.
The report went on to say that people with pre-existing conditions and those over 65 should have groceries and medications delivered to their home, and masks should be worn at all times in public, among other important safety measures.
Sounding the alarm, the report reads in bold letters: “Begin warning about any gathering during December holidays,” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also (CDC) warns that gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.
DeSantis Is Called to Answer
Despite the fact that the White House has indicated these reports should be “widely shared,” the Dec. 6 report is one in a series of weekly reports which the governor’s office has refused to regularly provide news organizations.
Claiming the DeSantis’ administration is violating the Public Records Act by refusing to release the reports, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun Sentinel are suing the DeSantis’ administration. Filed in state court in Tallahassee, the lawsuit asks for the immediate release of requested and all future reports.
On Dec. 16 two White House task force reports were released by DeSantis’ office after Orlando Sentinel sued.