Ron DeSantis speaking at an event. | AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged on Saturday that the rising number of new Covid-19 cases in Florida cannot be explained away by an increase in testing, and announced plans to step up enforcement of social distancing practices in bars and nightclubs.
“Even with the testing increasing or being flat, the number of people testing positive is accelerating faster than that,” DeSantis told reporters during a briefing at the state Capitol. “You know that’s evidence that there’s transmission within those communities.”
The Florida Department of Health reported more than 4,000 new Covid-19 diagnoses on Friday, the latest peak in positive Florida cases that began climbing about a month after the state began reopening its economy on May 4. The rate of new coronavirus cases has more than doubled over the past 10 days. On Friday, just over 12 percent of test results came back positive for Covid-19, which is an increase from 5.5 percent on June 10, according to a report by the Florida Department of Health.
Just earlier this week, when the state logged nearly 2,800 Covid-19 cases, DeSantis attributed the spike to increased testing among migrant farm workers and in low-income communities. Nationally, Vice President Mike Pence has also sought to downplay the surge in cases by pointing to more available testing. But DeSantis said Saturday that some businesses — especially bars with young patrons seen packed close together and not social distancing — need to be reined in.
“You do hear reports of people who are just jam packed in there and that’s just not the way we’re going to do things,” DeSantis said. “There’s a reason why it was done that way, and it wasn’t just pulled out of a hat.”
Compliance officers with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation are paying visits to watering holes, he said, noting that most of the new Covid-19 cases are among people between 20 and 40 years old. Though he said there are concerns about community spread.
“Those are things that we’ve got to tackle and we’re looking forward to doing that,” DeSantis said.
Even with more evidence of community spread, DeSantis refrained from requiring that people to wear masks in public. The state has endorsed the mask-use guidelines set by the CDC in May but DeSantis argues a broad mandate would be impossible to enforce.
“If you say you’re going to be prosecuted you know or wear a mask, they’ll say ‘geez, they were telling me not to wear one in March now they’re saying to do it,’” DeSantis said. “We’re going to trust people to make good decisions.”
Florida’s cases have gone up as previous U.S. hot zones, such as New York, have seen them drop. A Johns Hopkins University Medicine website shows the state saw 603 new diagnoses on Thursday, a figure far less than Florida’s 3,315 cases from the same day.
DeSantis, a Republican, was critical of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo when reports emerged about patients with Covid-19 being placed inside nursing homes. He also ordered all visitors arriving from New York to quarantine themselves for 14 days.
Now, with Florida facing more than six times the number of new cases as New York, Cuomo is considering a quarantine on visitors from Florida.
“I think governors are going to do what they need to do,” DeSantis said. “I would just ask them if that’s done, just please do not quarantine any Floridians in the nursing homes in New York.”
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