Gov. Ron DeSantis held another press conference June 26 to talk about how the rise in positive tests was driving the number of COVID-19 cases in Florida.
Speaking from Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers on Friday afternoon, DeSantis said the positivity rate had been 3-4% at the start of June and now was up to 10-15%.
Florida set a new record on Friday with 8,942 COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 122,960.
DeSantis said the rate of positive tests had gone up in March, but declined in April and held steady in May. He said increases had been tied to “hot spots,” such as long-term care facilities, prisons and agricultural workers.
But in the last two weeks, there had been increased community spread, especially among the younger demographic. He was quick to point out that it was expected that as more testing was done, there would be more cases.
However, in the past more, positive results had come from those aged 60 and older, then mid-50s, and those in the 30s, until now, when the largest number of new cases were in those age 20 through early 30s.
About 20% of the positive cases are in ages 15-34, which is triple what it was on June 1. Still, that younger demographic is less likely to have serious consequences, the governor said.
The problem is that many of the younger population have no symptoms; however, they are carriers and transmitters of the virus, he said. And that’s a concern for the state’s vulnerable population.
“It may not affect you negatively,” he said. “But you could pass it on to those with health issues or are of advanced age.”
He said the state was much better prepared to respond to the increase in COVID-19 cases than when he issued the safer at home order in March. He said the goal had been to flatten the curve and preserve the health system.
Those more vulnerable to the virus needed to be vigilant and avoid crowds and close contact with people outside the home, DeSantis said, and younger people have to be responsible to be careful if they have contact with someone more vulnerable.
The state and its Department of Health are advising everyone to avoid the Three Cs, which include closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places with people nearby and close-contact settings, such as conversations.
DeSantis believes the reason southern states are seeing a big uptick in cases is due to the hotter weather and more people moving indoors. He said air conditioning was good for virus transmission versus outdoor environments with sunshine and humidity.
He said when he implemented phase one of the state’s recovery plan and started reopening the economy, he advised people to social distance and to wear a face mask, especially in situations with face-to-face contact. Hand washing for 20 seconds with soap and water also was advised as was proper hygiene and staying home if you’re sick.
DeSantis said when case counts were low in May, COVID became a low priority. People just wanted to get back to normal.
He said the state had done a great job from March through early June. Then there was a change with “really, really big positive test results” from the younger, less risky demographic.
When asked why he didn’t mandate face masks statewide, he said he preferred to educate and advocate for their use instead of having to police and impose criminal penalties. He said some local governments had mandated face masks and some businesses require their employees and/or customers to wear them.
He said younger people partying at someone’s house weren’t likely to wear a mask, adding that he would like to change that environment. He prefers to use messaging and guidance as opposed to mandates.
“I trust people to make good decisions,” he said.
When asked if he believed shutting down the economy was more dangerous that the virus itself, he said there was no comparison. He said having people working is a good thing; however, it was still important to avoid crowds and close contact.
“In the last few weeks, people wanted to be social and interact,” he said, which is low risk for younger people, but not the elderly or those with chronic illnesses “who must take steps to protect themselves.”
One reporter asked him what he was going to do about national reports that said Florida was quickly becoming a hot spot and people who were calling for him to resign. He pointed to the action taken that day by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation that suspended alcohol sales at bars, pubs and nightclubs. He repeated the steps taken to protect those living in long-term care facilities.
He said when he implemented phase one of the recovery plan and everyone was following the guidelines, there had been no issues.
“This is less about businesses than it is about social interaction,” he said.
He also blamed some of the problem on the media, saying when COVID-19 dropped off the news and protests became the headlines, people started paying less attention. Then when cases started to increase, it became a headline again. He said people understand now that its back.
“We very much in the fight,” he said. “We’re in a better position to help people.”
He said people will want to get the message out.
“If folks heed the advice — simple actions go a long ways, especially for the vulnerable,” he said.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.