Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is weighing whether to join other states moving to relax workplace restrictions and stay-at-home orders that have battered the U.S. economy even though health experts credit the measures with slowing the contagion.
The meeting at the White House came as Florida announced its highest single-day death toll from the coronavirus and two days before Florida’s stay-at-home order is due to expire. Despite a high proportion of elderly residents, who are especially vulnerable to the virus, and having waited until early April to lock down its economy, Florida has averted the worst of the health crisis seen in other states such as New York and New Jersey.
“I mean, you go from D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois – you name it – Florida’s done better,” DeSantis said during his meeting with Trump, a fellow Republican.
“And I’m not criticizing those states, but everyone in the media was saying Florida was going to be like New York or Italy, and that has not happened because we understood we have a big, diverse state,” DeSantis added, touting “a tailored and measured approach” that “did less damage to our state going forward.”
About a dozen states were forging ahead to restart shuttered commerce without being ready to put in place the large-scale virus testing or means to trace close contacts of newly infected individuals, as outlined in White House guidelines on April 16.
Public health experts have warned that a premature rollback of social-distancing policies could trigger a resurgence of infections just when those restrictions are showing signs of bringing the outbreak under control.
While DeSantis’ state has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic, Florida reported a record 83 new deaths and more than 700 new infections from the previous 24 hours on Tuesday. The state has so far tallied 32,846 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, including 1,171 deaths.
“Apparently Trump and DeSantis find it appropriate to slap each other on the back while Floridians struggle to stay safe during this pandemic and navigate a broken unemployment system,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said.
The number of Americans seeking jobless benefits over the past five weeks has soared to 26.5 million – nearly one in six U.S. workers – and the Trump administration has forecast an April unemployment rate exceeding 16%.
DEADLIER THAN WAR
The human toll has likewise been staggering. As of Tuesday, 58,233 have died of COVID-19 in the United States, according to a Reuters tally, eclipsing in 12 weeks the total number of Americans killed during 16 years of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. U.S. coronavirus deaths have averaged about 2,000 a day this month.
The number of known U.S. coronavirus infections has doubled over the past 18 days to more than 1 million. The actual count is believed to be higher, with state public health officials cautioning that shortages of trained workers and materials have limited testing capacity, leaving many infections unrecorded.
As further evidence that caution may still be in order, an influential University of Washington research model often cited by White House officials and public health officials revised its projected U.S. coronavirus death toll upwards on Tuesday to more than 74,000 by Aug. 4, against its previous forecast of 67,000.
The model showed that while most states appeared to have reached the crest of the pandemic, seven others including Mississippi, Texas, Utah and Hawaii, may be just peaking now or in the coming weeks.
About 30% of American cases have occurred in New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, followed by New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom said curbside retail, manufacturing and other “lower-risk workplaces” should reopen within weeks as testing and contact-tracing improve.
He also said California’s public education system could welcome students back as early as July to make up for a “learning loss” during school closures and to allow parents in the broader workforce to return to work.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Monday he will allow his stay-at-home order to expire on Thursday and start a phased exit from social distancing.
The virus was first reported late last year in China. The earliest-known U.S. deaths came in February on the West Coast.