Gov. DeSantis extends COVID emergency as caseload expands; sees youth defiance of contact tracing

The American Recovery Act will send federal aid to Florida's state government but also directly to cities and counties. Credit: Jonathan Warren/EyeEm

Gov. Ron DeSantis extended Florida’s COVID-19 state of emergency for another 60 days Tuesday as state health officials announced that another 7,347 positive test results had come in overnight.

The new data showed 63 new Florida resident deaths related to COVID-19. As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, officials had reported a total 213,794 Florida cases and 3,841 deaths. The overnight positive rate was above 16 percent.

DeSantis issued his initial executive order declaring a state of emergency on March 9; this marks the second extension. That directive authorized state and local agencies to waive laws, ordinances and regulations if necessary to contain COVID outbreak.

At a news conference in Miami, DeSantis said that the young people he blames for much of the upsurge in transmission haven’t cooperated with attempts to trace their contacts to get a handle on the pandemic.

“Particularly the younger folks aren’t cooperating with contact tracers. And so when they’re trying to call, they’re just not getting a lot of support,” the governor said.

“You do have some informal contact tracing that’s gone on with younger people, where someone will have like a party at somebody’s house and someone at that party later tests positive, then they tell everyone, ‘Hey I tested positive,’ and then those people go and get tested.”

DeSantis appeared to play down the importance of contact tracing. “I think it’s important, but it doesn’t do the whole thing,” he said.

The reason is said, is that many infected people don’t show visible symptoms. “Most of the people walking around with this either don’t know they have it or have very mild symptoms and will never come in contact with the health [system],” he said.

By contrast, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that contact tracing — investigating viral vectors by interviewing people with whom infected people have interacted — “is key” to containing COVID.

The governor said he’s approved $138 million for the Florida Department of Health for programs including contact tracing, although he gave no specific dollar figure for that program.

“We understand now how this thing is transmitted,” DeSantis said, singling out those house parties.

“Especially when it’s hot out, you pack a lot of people in a private residence, you know, have a party, loud music, lot of hootin’ and hollerin’, that’s going to be a strong venue for transmission.”

Outdoor activities are safer, and older and more vulnerable people should “be limiting your close contacts outside your home, to avoid crowds as much as you can, to be able to protect yourself,” he said.

DeSantis was in Miami to announce the opening of a new COVID-only nursing home, on the grounds of the old Pan American Hospital. It is the 12th such facility opened in the state.

Dating from early in the outbreak, the governor has forbidden hospitals from releasing COVID patients back into their nursing homes to protect other older and vulnerable people in those institutions. The facilities also accept patients from nursing homes that lack isolation units.