No sign of change in DeSantis’ COVID strategy as state leaders react to Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis

Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 3, 2020, to announce plans to speed up the return of COVID-19 test results. Source: Screenshot

News of President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis landed Friday in a Florida whose governor has been following the White House line on reopening restaurants, bars, public schools, and universities while playing down the risk to virtually all but the most vulnerable.

The news dropped one week to the day after Gov. Ron DeSantis formally rescinded most of the remaining anti-COVID restrictions he’d imposed earlier in the pandemic. Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, has been leaning on school districts to open brick-and-mortar classrooms even in South Florida, where COVID has hit hardest during the pandemic.

Press aides to the governor have not yet responded to a request for information about how the president’s illness will inform COVID policy in Florida. DeSantis himself posted a tweet commiserating with Trump but didn’t mention any reconsideration of his strategy.

“.@FLCaseyDeSantis and I send our best wishes for a swift recovery to President @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS. Hope to see both of them back in Florida very soon,” DeSantis tweeted.

Florida Democrats, however, said a new direction is called for.

“We are certainly sorry to hear of the president and his wife’s illness with COVID-19,” Senate Democratic leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville said in a written statement.

Sen. Audrey Gibson
Sen. Audrey Gibson

“Hopefully, Gov. DeSantis will finally understand that this virus is not just a threat to the most vulnerable and institute mandatory safety measures statewide, including masks, as we have repeatedly called for,” Gibson continued.

One consequence of Trump’s illness was the scrapping, at least for now, of a scheduled appearance by the president during a “Make America Great Again Event” Friday evening in Sanford plus a number of Florida appearances by Donald Trump Jr.

As for Trump’s political events, campaign manager Bill Stepien released the following written statement:

“All previously announced campaign events involving the president’s participation are in the process of being moved to virtual events or are being temporarily postponed. In addition, previously announced events involving members of the First Family are also being temporarily postponed,” he said.

“All other campaign events will be considered on a case-by-case basis and we will make any relevant announcements in the days ahead. Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested negative for COVID-19, plans on resuming his scheduled campaign events. Any further information about the president will come from the White House.”

Trump junior had been set to appear Saturday in Tampa, Kissimmee, and Coconut Creek and on Monday in Gainesville.

“At this point of the campaign, with 32 days to go, our singular focus is on get out the vote efforts,” the campaign’s Florida spokeswoman, Emma Vaughn, said via email.

“We have had firm health and safety protocols in place for our staff and volunteers since we transitioned back to in-person efforts in June. Our 2.3 million volunteers are breaking voter contact records every week to re-elect President Donald J. Trump and Republicans up and down the ballot,” Vaughn added.

DeSantis never issued a statewide mandate to wear masks against COVID transmission. He did allow local mandates, but now plans to cancel any fines or other penalties imposed on violators.

The governor also has invited advice from medical experts who differ from guidance provided from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but support his instinct to reopen society. The thinking is that social restrictions hobble the economy unnecessarily and pose mental health risks.

DeSantis, and his experts, have argued that young people tend to suffer few serious medical consequence of infection.

Meanwhile, infections in the state have been rising, although the percentage of positive test results has been in decline.

Republicans who commented via social media were solicitous of the health of the president and First Lady Melania Trump, who also has been infected.

“Florida is praying for a speedy recovery for our President, First Lady, and all who are recovering from COVID-19. We will get through this together,” was the word on the Republican Party of Florida’s Twitter account.

“Ann and I send our well wishes and prayers to @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS during this time and hope for a speedy and safe recovery,” U.S. Sen. Rick Scott said on his account.

“Praying for a full and speedy recovery,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted, adding: “Any adversary who views news of @POTUS testing positive as an opportunity to test the United States would be making a grave mistake.”

State legislators who’ve contracted COVID also weighed in.

“As someone who knows firsthand what it is like, my prayers are with the President and the First Lady,” Chris Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Randy Fine is one of the Florida lawmakers to test positive for COVID-19. Source: Screengrab from Fine’s video updates of his COVID-19 symptoms

“I just woke up to learn that the President and First Lady have COVID-19. Wendy and I know what they are about to go through and will pray for their swift and speedy recovery,” Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican from Brevard County, wrote on Facebook.

“I hope that this serves as a time of education, reflection, and empathy among all Americans. Perhaps this will help us unite in ways that have been so elusive for so long. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents prayed for me when I had it — and I know it worked — and I hope 1000 times as many will now do so for our President and First Lady,” Fine wrote.

Shevrin Jones, a Broward County Democrat who’s expected to head to the state Senate later this year, said: As someone who’s been through Covid, experiencing 19 days and nights of brutal uncertainty, I don’t/won’t wish it on anyone. I wish a speedy recovery to @realDonaldTrump, @FLOTUS, and others who have been affected.”

Other Democrats saw the possibility of a learning opportunity.

“Wishing the President and the First Lady a speedy and full recovery. This is a sobering reminder that #COVID19 is not a hoax and this pandemic is far from over. Continue to #WearAMask, take extra precautions, and #BeSMARTFL,” Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried tweeted.

“The President and First Lady will be in my prayers for a full recovery. As the president has consistently downplayed the #coronavirus, I hope this will be a wake up call to all who blindly follow his lead including @GovRonDeSantis. We all must take steps to stay safe,” former congresswoman Gwen Graham said on Twitter.

From Washington, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued a written statement.

“While we wish a speedy recovery for the president and first lady, and all those who have been affected in the White House and in Republican leadership by this newest COVID-19 outbreak, this makes abundantly clear that the pandemic is not over,” she wrote.

She urged approval by Congress of another relief package to keep Americans in public and private sector jobs and help them avoid evictions and mortgage foreclosures.

“The American public has indicated that they can wait until after the election for a new Supreme Court justice, but they can’t wait for lifesaving COVID-19 relief. We urge the Senate to pass this $2.2 trillion relief package to support our schools, our states, our hospitals, our post offices and the people who need it,” Weingarten said.