Gov. DeSantis bashes China over COVID-19 supplies, urges drugmakers to set up in FL

Gov. Ron DeSantis has adopted the Trump administration's line on alleged Chinese hoarding of protective gear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, a staffer at Community Health of South Florida prepares to test people in the parking lot of its Doris Ison Health Center on March 18, 2020, in Miami. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis went harsh against the Chinese government Wednesday, adopting the line being pushed by the Trump administration that China has hoarded antiviral protective gear.

The governor, during a news conference in Miami Gardens, pointed to shortages of such gear as the COVID-19 pandemic flared in Florida and elsewhere in the United States in March and said the Chinese deserve to pay a price for holding back equipment.

“China had known what was going on and they specifically bought up a lot of this stuff, really to try to screw over the rest of the world. They’re going to need to pay for doing that,” DeSantis said.

His remarks followed an Associated Press report about a U.S. Department of Homeland Security assessment that China “intentionally concealed the severity” of its COVID outbreak so that it could accumulate medical supplies.

That’s only one of the allegations against the Chinese raised by Trump and Republicans while attempting to shift attention in an election year away from his own handling of a pandemic that has killed at least 72,800 Americans.

Western intelligence agencies have debunked another such charge — that the new coronavirus escaped into the world through a laboratory accident in China. More likely, they say, is that humans picked up a virus already existing in the wild.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s leading expert on infectious disease, has also debunked the accident scenario.

Trump, who initially praised the Chinese government’s COVID response, also has been blaming U.S. intelligence agencies, although they reportedly sent him repeated warnings of what lay in store. It is generally conceded China concealed the scope of the initial outbreak, however.

DeSantis is a conservative Republican who can thank Trump’s endorsement for his victory in the 2018 Republican primary and eventually the general election for governor. He’s been traveling the state recently highlighting his own administration’s response to COVID and lashing out at his critics.

Florida has sufficient medical supplies at this stage in the pandemic, the governor has said, but is operating a facility alongside a viral testing center at Miami-Dade’s Hard Rock Stadium, where DeSantis addressed reporters Wednesday, that’s capable of sterilizing N95 protective masks to allow their reuse.

“This is important to have because we don’t know what’s going to happen with the supply chain. I hope it ends up being better. We need to get a lot of this stuff back to being made in America. We should not be relying on China for all these important medical supplies, and that includes prescription drugs,” he said.

“I’ve talked to some folks who are involved with things like pharmaceuticals and told them, ‘Come to Florida. You know, we have a good business environment. We would love to be able to manufacture that stuff here.’ That’s much safer for the American people, and really is a national security issue.”

China manufactures more than 90 percent of the antibiotics, ibuprofen, and hydrocortisone consumed in the United States, The New York Times has reported, plus significant quantities of other pharmaceuticals.

Antibody testing

DeSantis appeared with Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, state emergency director Jared Moskowitz, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez to unveil the state’s new mobile testing lab, which officials will send to nursing homes and sites of outbreaks. It can turn out diagnostic results within 45 minutes, he said.

The state is ready to begin administering 200,000 tests for coronavirus antibodies, to give a better idea of the true spread of the disease. In all, the state is running 12 drive-through and 10 walk-up testing centers, in addition to testing in private labs.

However, public health experts have been cautious about the antibody testing, saying results may not be trusted, according to The Times.

Meanwhile, infections and deaths in Florida continue to rise.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Florida Department of Health reported 38,002 COVID-19 infections and 1,539 deaths, both increases from the day before, even as the state is pursuing a “reopening” of Florida.

DeSantis began this week to wean the state off the expansive stay-home order he issued in early April, now allowing restaurants, retail stores, some state parks, and libraries and museums to offer restricted services, subject to social distancing guidelines.

Elective surgery is now allowed, too. He’s hinted the same might apply soon to personal services businesses including hair and nail salons.

“We need to dispense with this idea that some jobs are essential and some jobs are not essential. At the end of the day, if you’re a business owner that some government official terms nonessential, I can tell you it’s essential for you. Its essential that you’re putting food on the table. They people you employ, its essential for them,” DeSantis said.

“We’re looking at it in terms of how do we reduce risk from various occupations,” he said. “I told my folks, we have a responsibility to get to yes.”

The earlier, tougher rules still apply in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, which have seen Florida’s biggest caseloads, but DeSantis said Wednesday that that might change soon.

“For Florida to be successful, we need our southern Florida communities to be successful. I mean, Miami’s a incredible engine for the state of Florida. Same with Broward and Palm Beach,” he said.

Giménez warned that safety from the contagion will remain relative.

“It doesn’t mean there’s zero risk. There is going to be some risk, but reduce it to the point where the level of contagion is always below our level to be able to treat patients who may become positive,” he said.

DeSantis argued the relaxation is justified by the progress the state is making toward containing the coronavirus. Over the past two days, he said, the statewide figures for positive test results were 2.6 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively. In some areas of the county, he said, positive returns are as high as 40 percent.

Some 284 people with COVID-19 are on ventilators in Florida, including 84 in Miami-Dade, he said. “Those are lows from where we’ve been doing most of April, and there are over 6,300 ventilators throughout the state of Florida that are just not being used.”

Additionally, state and private labs have administered nearly 500,000 tests thus far, including 100,000 in Miami-Dade, the governor said.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.