Florida Democrats Friday called on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue targeted stay-at-home orders and a statewide mask mandate, insisting that “dramatic, science-based” action was needed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In a letter to Mr. DeSantis, 12 congressional Democrats said that “Florida is now the global epicenter of this pandemic,” citing Sunday’s record 15,000 positive test results, increasing patient loads at hospital intensive-care units, and 90-plus deaths per day for the past week.
“There is no doubt that issuing a stay-at-home order is a difficult decision,” said the letter. “Closing the economy again would be painful, but that pain pales in comparison to the tragedy of losing thousands more Floridians, of watching our loved ones suffer through debilitating illness and possibly life-long health issues, or worse, watching over a phone screen as they die alone in a strained hospital system.”
The Democrats called for targeted shutdowns “in parts of the state where the outbreak is raging,” particularly in South Florida.
In a video press conference, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz said that the “governor needs to do his damn job,” while Rep. Ted Deutch said the governor’s approach was “producing disastrous results for Floridians,” according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
On her Twitter account, Rep. Donna Shalala called earlier this week for a “statewide 14-day reset,” adding, “We need another lockdown, Gov. DeSantis. It will be hard, but this is a matter of life and death.”
The Florida Department of Health reported Friday 11,548 new cases of COVID-19 and 130 deaths, outpacing other current hot spots like California and Texas, although the Sun Belt states have still reported fewer deaths and cases per capita than New York and New Jersey, which peaked in the spring.
Among states, Florida has the eighth-highest cases per capita, with 1,463 per 100,000 people, but the 25th highest death rate at 22 deaths per 100,000 people, well below that of New York City with 278.3, New Jersey with 175.8, and Connecticut with 122.8, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The state set a single-day death record on Thursday with 156, but so far Mr. DeSantis has resisted another shutdown, which has allowed the reopening of theme parks like Disney World and Universal Orlando, albeit with mask and social-distancing restrictions in place, as well as heightened sanitation protocols.
“Would you rather have our case fatality rate, our deaths per million, which are lower than many of these other states — which many of them are hailed as successes — just because the virus is burned out there?” he said at a Friday appearance.
Mr. DeSantis has pointed out that Florida is testing at an “incredibly high clip,” averaging about 90,000 tests per day for the past week, a big reason for the state’s positivity numbers.
“Obviously when the epidemic started, particularly with a lot of the states that had the more severe outbreaks, they were doing a fraction of that, they were doing 10,000, 20,000 tests a day,” said Mr. DeSantis at Wednesday’s press briefing. “We are capturing a lot more of the infections that are out there and providing folks with the opportunity to get tested.”
He also ticked off the state’s latest steps for tackling COVID-19, including increasing antibody testing; debuting drive-thru lanes for symptomatic residents, and focusing on senior nursing homes, including opening more COVID-only facilities and routinely testing staff.
“We’ve been able to save probably thousands of lives when you look at our efforts in long-term care facilities,” Mr. DeSantis said. “We’re doing all we can because every life counts.”
Earlier this week, Florida Democratic legislators unveiled their Step Back to Safety plan, which would roll back the reopening by closing bars and nightclubs, requiring businesses and restaurants to operate at 25% staffing, implementing a statewide mask mandate, and having schools wait at least another month before reopening to students.
“His hands-off approach is not working,” said Florida Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson on a video press conference. “He’s losing the war against the pandemic, and that means the people of the state of Florida are losing the war against the state of Florida.”
Mr. DeSantis said the state was reopening with “an eye toward what’s sustainable,” adding that data shows that residents have changed their behavior, which is “what’s going to do it for us,” as reported by News6 Orlando.
The governor is under pressure from both sides. On July 10, Orlando bar owners sued him over the state’s June 26 ban on on-site alcohol consumption for bars but not restaurants, calling the order unconstitutional.
“My clients have complied with all safety mandates and have exceeded the guidelines set forth by the government and CDC,” said attorney John W. Dill in a statement. “Governor DeSantis has thrown out the baby with the bathwater and prevented law abiding citzens from making a living.”
Ms. Shalala, who served as Health and Human Services Secretary under President Barack Obama, said Friday she warned months ago that “if we did not listen to the experts and hit this virus with a hammer our state would be forced to shut down again.”
“With positive test rates skyrocketing and the number of available ICU beds dwindling, implementing a stay-at-home order now is the best chance we have of preventing this crisis from spiraling further out of control,” said Ms. Shalala.
Florida has logged 327,241 cases and 4,805 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the state health department.