Fl Senate’s top Democrat demands answers from Gov. DeSantis on COVID-19 response

Man in hospital bed because of coronavirus infection; health-care worker is giving medicine to the patient. Credit: Getty Images.

The top Democrat in the Florida Senate called upon Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday to cough up details about the extent of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, including the availability of ICU beds and whether the state has plans to expand that capacity if needed.

On a day when the overnight data from the Florida Department of Health reflected another 9,989 new positive COVID test results, boosting the total in Florida to 223,783, Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville sent the governor a two-page letter with specific questions about the COVID response.

The overnight death toll was 48, which pushed total deaths to 3,889.

“The staggering number of new COVID-19 infections in Florida has placed a spotlight not only on how this pandemic has been handled, but the adequacy and quality of public health information forthcoming from your administration,” Gibson wrote.

“Despite the benchmark criteria established by the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for re-opening phases, including a downward trajectory in cases for at least 14 days, it appears these milestones have been repeatedly ignored in the rush to reopen Florida, jeopardizing not only the health of our citizens, but the ability of our economy to safely reopen.”

Critics, including Florida newspapers such as the Miami Herald, have been pressing DeSantis to make good on his recent promise to include daily hospitalization data on the Florida Department of Health’s COVID dashboard and other public information sites. The agency does post a statewide number, which was 16,758 as of 11 a.m. Wednesday.

The governor sidestepped questions about the matter during a news conference in Miami Tuesday. His press aides had no response to Gibson’s letter as of this writing.

Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide-elected Democrat, has also complained, writing on Twitter Tuesday:

“This is public data. It belongs to Floridians. It should be available to anyone who wants it. It’s just the latest example of @GovRonDeSantis hiding and manipulating public data during a pandemic.”

Gibson asked for “additional information and clarification on the collection and dissemination of data that have raised questions about Florida’s ability to handle the recent surge in cases and increase in hospitalizations, as well as transparency in fully reporting accurate numbers to the public.”

Including:

“Why is there still no daily reporting of hospital admissions for COVID-19 or COVID-19-related illnesses? Running totals are not an accurate reflection of current conditions. When will this information be forthcoming?”

“Statewide, how many COVID-19 ICU beds are open? How many non-COVID-19 ICU beds are available? What hospital expansion capacity for COVID-19 cases exists, if any, in each of Florida’s 67 counties?”

“What is the status of the state’s contact tracing, and have there been any efforts to identify where clusters may be occurring and the ground zeroes for where these infections began?”

CNN, citing figures provided by the state, has reported that at least 56 Florida intensive care units were full as of Tuesday and units in another 35 hospitals were 90 percent or more full.

The Herald has also reported on finger-pointing between DeSantis and Miami-Dade officials about delays in contact tracing.

Additional questions included the availability of medical personnel; how asymptomatic positive patients admitted for other reasons count toward Florida’s totals; and the status of inspections at Florida’s 12 COVID-only nursing homes.

“Restarting Florida’s economy and restoring the public’s confidence to reengage in that economy requires more than just issuing a phased-in ‘all clear’ signal,” Gibson wrote.

“The public has a right to know the real-time status of the pandemic in Florida, as well as the actual real-time ability of our health care facilities to respond to the surging infection rate.”

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.