Gov. DeSantis to a frightened public: ‘I hear you’ on COVID-19

Gov. Ron DeSantis glances toward a heckler who interrupted his July 13, 2020, news conference about COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County. Source: Florida Channel Screenshot

Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged Monday that Floridians are freaked out over the state’s expanding COVID-19 caseload.

“I know many Floridians are filled with apprehension as they wonder, you know, what does this mean. What do these trends mean for our health, for our families, and for our jobs? How long is this going to go on for? What’s going to happen with things like kids being in school?” he said.

“I hear you, and I along with our federal partners, our local leaders, and our great medical community, we’re working nonstop to be able to respond to this crisis,” he continued.

“We have to address the virus with steady resolve. We can’t get swept away in fear.”

DeSantis spoke during a news conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami-Dade County, accompanied by county Mayor Carlos Giménez and Carlos Migoya, the hospital’s president and CEO.

One member of the audience shouted back. As DeSantis began to speak, a heckler interrupted, complaining that the governor and Giménez had failed to protect the public. “Shame on you!” he yelled as he was escorted from the room.

A short time later, Thomas Kennedy, statewide coordinator for the immigrants’ rights group United We Dream, identified himself on Twitter as the heckler. He said he’d wanted to let DeSantis and Giménez “know they are an embarrassment to FL and that their incompetence and lack of planning has resulted in the current public health crisis.”

Earlier Monday, the Florida Department of Health reported 12,624 new positive COVID-19 cases as of 11 a.m. Monday, reflecting results received the day before, and 35 deaths of Florida residents.

There were 282,435 cases in Florida residents in total and 4,277 deaths. That followed a reported 15,300 new cases based on results received Saturday.

Based on tracking by the New York Times, Florida is now 3rd of the 50 states based on the number of COVID-19 infections. (New York and California have the highest numbers in the nation.)

But based on infections per 100,000 people, Florida is 12th of the 50 states, with 1,315 cases per 100,000, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In terms of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people, Florida is far below many other states, according to the Times.

In Miami-Dade, more than 2,000 people have been hospitalized with COVID, including more than 400 in ICUs and more than 200 on ventilators, Giménez said. “These are all record highs for us,” he said.

The positivity rate for COVID testing, meanwhile, is more than 25 percent in Miami-Dade, he said, prompting fears medical centers might be overwhelmed. The county has begun restricting nonemergency procedures in an attempt to avoid that, he added.

“The message that I want to give the community is that we have to follow the rules,” Giménez said.

Statewide, DeSantis said, Florida retains some 10,000 to 15,000 empty beds notwithstanding the caseload surge.

Hospital president Migoya said his institution alone has seen caseloads rise from around 200 three or four weeks ago to more than 400 patients, 100 of them in ICUs.

The hospital accounted for that by reducing the number of surgeries performed, he said, but at the same time is performing emergency surgeries made necessary because patients delayed seeking attention for medical problems out of COVID fear.

“That means we have a higher percentage of COVID patients today than we had a month ago,” Migoya said. It also means an increase in infections among staff, he said. He didn’t provide a number but praised the governor for shipping 100 nurses to the area to help with the demand for patient care.

“We can do that for a certain period of time. We cannot do that forever.”

The state has contracts with brokers to supply medical workers and has arranged to bring 1,000 of them to hospitals and nursing homes, DeSantis said. Contracts in place would provide as many as 3,000 workers.

Here’s another troubling trend that’s accompanied the increased infection rate, principally among younger people:

“The younger people have been contaminating the older people and making it difficult for the older people,” Migoya said.

One way around that, the governor said, might be isolating infected persons in multigenerational housing — which might include older and vulnerable people — in hotel rooms at the state’s expense.

DeSantis complained that the large amount of daily testing — including more than 112,000 individual tests on Sunday alone — has meant a backlog in diagnostic laboratories. Mandatory staff testing in nursing homes will produce 200,000 samples every two weeks, he said. Tests are available to anyone who wants one, symptoms or not.

He stressed that the vast majority will experience zero to minimal symptoms. And positivity rates have been trending downward, the governor added. Still, backlogs in testing mean asymptomatic patients might not isolate themselves when they are capable of spreading virus and don’t know it, the governor said.

The state plans lanes dedicated to symptomatic patients to allow a quicker turnaround on testing results for them, he said.