Gov. DeSantis tries to calm the public on coronavirus; Dems lash out about lack of transparency

Novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is shown here in orange and yellow. COVID mutations are now spreading through the United States. Microphotography by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Thursday that the state is taking all precautions and working with local health departments to prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak.

But reporters at a news conference questioned DeSantis about why the Florida Department of Health has not been transparent.

And Democratic lawmakers and others have continued to ask why the state is not disclosing who is being tested for the disease. Currently, the state is focusing only on confirmed coronavirus cases, of which there are none in Florida.

The Senate’s Democratic Caucus on Thursday hand-delivered a letter to the governor, demanding explicit answers to questions related to preparedness in Florida in light of a potential outbreak. The questions include whether the state has enough face masks for the public; protocols for seniors at assisted living facilities and nursing homes; and emergency plans at schools. Read the full letter: 02-27-20 Covid-19

Also Thursday, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, who represents a part of Miami-Dade County, said that the issue is the “management of public information from the governor’s office, and the department of health.”

“The issue is the management of public information is not helping us as Floridians, as we are already preparing for COVID-19,” Rodriguez said. “We know from a press event they had this morning, the governor and surgeon general that ended rather abruptly, many questions were raised about why the department of health has not released aggregated data on suspected cases.”

“When it comes to prior practice in the state of Florida, [and] when it comes to what other states are doing, it makes sense to regularly release aggregated data on suspected cases.”

Rodriguez also said it makes sense to release information in areas of the state where people are being tested for the virus.

“No one is asking for specific facilities to be named, for specific individuals to be named, but in order to have an appropriate management of the public information, and not make things worse, we need the governor and our surgeon general to back off on how they’re interpreting our public information statutes.”

In the past, the health department has suggested that it did not want to create a panic.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

DeSantis essentially said he wouldn’t mind releasing that kind of information about suspected cases, but the law is the law. DeSantis is a Harvard-trained lawyer.

“We strictly respect the confidentiality of persons under investigation,” DeSantis said.

“I actually wanted to give all the numbers, but they pointed me to the regulation or the statute that said you can’t list all the numbers.”

DeSantis added: “I don’t think I’m allowed to go into the numbers but from the beginning of this in January, we’ve been monitoring people coming in, obviously HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) has said ‘this person may have been in China,’ and all those people were monitored, and anybody who tested, tested negative, and that’s been true up to this point.”

Florida's surgeon general
Florida’s new surgeon general. Credit: University of Florida

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said his department would post confirmed cases on its website.

The Florida Phoenix wrote Thursday that Florida’s public schools have already been taking precautions, including the idea of closing schools. Some businesses in Florida have already been impacted by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, another case was detected in California, increasing the number of confirmed cases in the United States to 15, plus the other 45 connected mostly to Americans who had been on board of the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

In the California case, the patient did not have any travel history to China or exposure to another known patient with the virus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States,” the CDC said in a press release.

Phoenix Reporter Lloyd Dunkelberger contributed to this report.