TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak continued its fevered escalation in Florida on Saturday, as Gov. Ron DeSantis again tried to tamp down worry over another record-breaking spike in infections since reopening restaurants, bars, gyms and other public places.
The state reported more than 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 - the highest daily total yet in a state that has now seen a consistent resurgence since reopening. The Florida Health Department also reported 40 more people have died from the virus, bringing the state's tally to more than 3,140.
During an afternoon press conference at the Florida Capitol, DeSantis tried to shift focus away from the sheer number of new cases that has begun to raise alarm.
“I think it’s also important to provide context and perspective in terms of what that actually means,” the governor told reporters.
With more people being tested, DeSantis said the number of cases was bound to rise. He said there was a noticeable jump in the number of asymptomatic younger people in their 20s and 30s testing positive.
The governor acknowledged that complacency might be a factor as Floridians fail to heed social distancing measures as they begin resuming their daily lives.
“We’re now three months into this. There’s a lot of fatigue in terms of the social distancing,” he said.
Young people in particular have been among the most persistent offenders, DeSantis suggested. Over the weeks, the median age of people testing positive has been declining.
The governor has rejected calls for making masks mandatory in places like supermarkets and other public places, saying he will leave it to localities to decide to impose stricter measures. Instead, he ordered the state's surgeon general to reissue a public health advisory that merely recommends that Floridians wear masks to help keep the virus from spreading and to refrain from attending gatherings of more than 50 people.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a South Florida Democrat, called on local officials to immediately require masks be worn in grocery stores and other retail establishments.
“With COVID-19 increasing at an alarming pace, everyone must do their part to stop its transmission," she said.
Since the outbreak began earlier this year, nearly 94,000 Floridians have tested positive for the virus. The state said new test results were reported for 34,400 people Friday and showed an infection rate of more than 12% — a clear indication of the the widened public spread of the disease. The rate has tripled from about 4% a week ago.
The new daily infections record comes just a day after the previous record was set, when the state announced more than 3,800 additional confirmed cases.
DeSantis also suggested, though without any immediate proof, that recent mass gatherings to protest police brutality against Blacks, including the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, might be contributing to the rise in infections.
The state has allowed bars, restaurants and some theme parks to reopen, and since then cases have spiked.
With the rise in infections, hospitalizations have also increased, but at a much slower rate, state health officials said. But there are no shortage of beds for those who need treatment.
While the governor has resisted calls to pull back from his push to reopen the state's economy, some of Florida's largest cities have slowed their plans to reopen.
With the Florida's economy badly damaged from the outbreak — and its unemployment rate at 14.5% in May — DeSantis has been under pressure to get his state back in business.