Vice President Mike Pence will fly into Florida Wednesday to claim progress against COVID-19 by the administrations of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis toward supplying nursing homes with protective gear and reopening the state’s tourism sector.
The scheduled Orlando trip comes amid declining poll ratings within the state for the president. The Republican governor is still popular but drawing south of 50 percent approval for his COVID policy.
The vice president’s itinerary sends him to a nursing home, where he’ll deliver personal protective equipment, “part of the initiative to deliver PPE to more than 15,000 nursing homes across America,” Pence’s advance agenda says.
Florida’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have experienced large numbers of COVID-19 deaths across the state. In fact, of the 2,052 resident deaths statewide, 938 have been in long-term care facilities.
Nearly half of those 938 deaths were in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, according to the most recent Florida Department of Health data. Only 1 percent of the long-term care deaths were in Orange County. Pence is expected to visit a nursing home in Orlando.
One of DeSantis’ firsts acts toward containing COVID-19 was to ban visitors from nursing homes. He’s spoken lately about beginning to loosen that restriction, but has signaled that would require better screening of staff and patients at these facilities.
Some have wondered whether Pence will wear a mask while at the long-term facility — he drew criticism for failure to wear one during a visit to the Mayo Clinic last month.
Later, Pence will appear at a “Reopening Florida Roundtable” at the Rosen Shingle Creek hotel in Orlando. “The vice president will meet with Gov. DeSantis to discuss Florida’s phased economic reopening,” according to the agenda.
As of Wednesday morning, DeSantis’ office had yet to release his daily schedule, but that often comes late in the day.
Florida Democrats didn’t wait for the vice president to land before firing off a political barrage, with the state party organizing a Zoom briefing featuring, among others, U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, who’s been listed as a possible running mate on a Joe Biden ticket.
“Here we are again — another smoke and mirrors moment,” Demings said.
“Feast your eyes on Vice President Mike Pence, the person in charge of America’s response, carrying a box — and I hope something is actually in it — into nursing homes in Florida. It explains a lot, doesn’t it?”
The visit comes amid declining support in Florida for the president, with Trump catching flak for failure to respond to the crisis and the governor under mounting criticism for the abject failure of the state’s unemployment compensation system, which has wilted under unprecedented demand following the COVID stay-home order DeSantis issued early in April.
The governor has only recently begun lifting restrictions on businesses throughout the state — a move Pence celebrated in a tweet Monday reading: “Great news from the Sunshine State! With @GovRonDeSantis’ Phase One reopening plan in effect, Floridians can now go out to eat and workout. #AmericaStronger”
A Florida Atlantic University poll this month showed Democrat Biden enjoying a 6-point lead over the president — with 53 percent support for Biden and 47 percent for Trump. But 53 percent of overall voters think Trump will win in November.
Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating slipped to 43 percent and his disapproval rate was 46 percent. The poll’s margin for error was plus or minus 3.1 percent. In March, the FAU poll had Trump’s approval rating at 49 percent.
Voters in Florida split on his handling of the COVID-19, with 45 percent approving and the same number disapproving.
The May survey showed DeSantis with a 51 percent approval rate and 32 percent disapproval — with 49 percent approving of the governor’s handling of COVID and 36 percent disapproving.