BELLEAIR — The Pelican Golf Club in Belleair hosted a number of dignitaries Friday afternoon including President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who participated in a COVID-19 Response and Storm Preparedness roundtable followed by a fundraising event.
The roundtable was scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.; however, it was delayed for more than an hour as the president’s motorcade made its way from an event with Florida’s sheriffs at Tampa International Airport to Pinellas County.
Trump started with an update on Hurricane Isaias, which he wasn’t sure was a hurricane yet. Isaias became a hurricane just before midnight on Thursday.
However, DeSantis quickly brought the president up to speed, telling him it was a Category 1 that would soon be approaching the Florida coast. The governor also said he already issued emergency declarations for parts of the east coast.
Trump then said the federal government had been in constant contact with states that might be threatened by the hurricane and named Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Alabama; however, Alabama is not in the National Hurricane Center’s forecast track for Isaias.
Trump praised DeSantis, saying he had done a good job with the hurricane and COVID-19. He also praised former governor and now Sen. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio and others, including Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters, who was the only county official that took part in the roundtable discussion.
Trump said the federal government had taken aggressive action to combat the virus in Florida. He said the rate of positive tests was now declining as were hospitalizations. He said the state had 21% bed capacity and 16% ICU capacity, predicting that more capacity would be coming soon as hospitals began “to empty out” as people got better.
“And they get better pretty fast,” Trump said.
He said the federal government was working to get more resources to Miami and one area there in particular that was experiencing a surge in cases.
The president said while cases were down, the goal was to keep them down by reducing infections. He advocated taking personal responsibility, which he said was the best defense, and protecting the elderly.
He advised the public to practice social distancing, to wear a mask in crowded places and to wash their hands frequently.
He said more than 50% of deaths had been in the elderly and praised the state of Florida for its work to protect its elderly and those in nursing homes.
“None have done a better job,” he said.
He talked about other countries that are starting to see a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, and Latin America, which Trump said had the most cases in the world. He said the United States had sent ventilators all over the world to help. He said the nation’s manufacturers were making thousands of ventilators a month now and were able to help a lot of countries.
“When this thing started, we had very few (ventilators),” Trump said. “Still there was not anyone who needed one that didn’t get one.”
He praised the people working on the ground in Florida and described them as “talented and brave.”
He talked about testing sites that had been opened with the help of the federal government along with resources provided, including personal protective equipment. He said Florida also was now receiving rapid testing kits.
Trump said 60 million people had been tested for COVID-19 in the United States, which he said was six times more than any other country. He said the United States had purchased 90% of the world’s supply of remdesivir and that many vials had been sent to Florida’s hospitals.
He also touted the many vaccine agreements that had been made recently and said that many companies were close to having a vaccine. He said when the vaccine was ready it would be distributed by the military using its logistics.
“We’ll have it (a vaccine) very soon,” Trump said.
He also talked about the advances made in therapeutics, which he said was his preferred method because people could get treated and get better quickly.
Trump said he was grateful for the speed at which therapeutics were being approved, pointing out that drug companies were close to coming up with a vaccine within months, instead of years as is the normal procedure.
He praised the great work by people on the front lines.
“We’ll beat it,” he said. “We’ll get our businesses open and our schools open.”
He said the U.S. had set records in hiring since the economy had reopened.
“Hopefully, it will end very soon,” he said. “We’re fighting very hard, very smart.”
DeSantis provided an update on the hurricane and asked that people on the east coast from north of Palm Beach to the Volusia/Brevard County line prepare and get supplies they needed. He said he had already asked for help from the federal government, which had been granted. He praised the help received from federal agencies for COVID-19 and hurricanes.
He also talked about the recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would allow people to get back to work quicker. He said it was a symptom-based approach instead of relying as much on testing.
Peters thanked DeSantis for the way he had handled the pandemic, relying on “home rule” and allowing each community to do what was best for its unique circumstance, while providing support as needed. She said Pinellas County’s case count and positivity rate was down, thanks in part to the resources provided by the state.
Trump then took a few questions from the press. The first was about his political standing in the state.
“Based on the polls, I’m doing well,” Trump said, attributing that in part to how the federal government had responded to Florida’s needs during the pandemic and past hurricanes.
He also was asked about the death rate, which is going up in Florida.
Trump said he hates deaths.
“I hate it anywhere,” he said. “This is a horrible disease that should have never happened. It should have never got out of China. Now it’s all over the world.”
He was asked about his health care plan. Trump described it as “very inclusive” and said it would be coming “very soon — might be Sunday.”
He also said he would be releasing a full immigration plan in the next couple of weeks that would be merit-based and also very inclusive.
He spent the most time talking about his plan to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
“Pharmaceutical companies are not in love with Donald Trump,” he said, adding that they were already releasing ads against his plan.
His goal is to get the “lowest prices in the world.” He said his plan would allow states like Florida to buy directly from Canada. DeSantis said some drugs were available from Canada for 75% less than they cost in the United States.
Trump plans to provide rebates to people, as well as implement “favored nations.”
“I want what’s right for the people,” he said. “I want to take the lowest (cost) nation in the world and that’s what we pay.”
He admitted that some of those nations with low prices might be socialist, but vowed that the U.S. would have lower prices.
“No other president will ever do that,” he said.
He said some pay half the price for drugs that are made in the same factory.
Trump said he wanted pharmaceutical companies to do well, “but they’ve made a fortune.”
“I want to bring drug prices down to a level that’s never been seen,” he said. “They don’t contribute to my campaign. I don’t need their money and it wouldn’t matter if they did.”
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.