FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's Democratic congressional delegation blasted Gov. Ron DeSantis' response to the coronavirus outbreak, saying Tuesday that his refusal to issue statewide orders requiring masks and impose tougher restrictions on businesses has caused unneeded deaths and spread the disease.
They called on the Republican governor to close beaches and again close gyms and bar inside dining at restaurants statewide as the state hit a new record for daily hospital admissions. They said he has never met with a bipartisan congressional delegation to discuss the virus and his administration's order Monday requiring school districts to reopen classrooms this fall usurps local authority and endangers families.
“The failure of leadership at the national and state level has put us in the position we are in now,” said Rep. Lois Frankel of Palm Beach County. “If we had starved the virus at the beginning and completely shutdown ... and got everyone to wear masks, we would be in a much different position today and we would have saved lives.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Broward County said during the conference call with reporters that DeSantis has failed to provide “honest, courageous leadership."
“The governor told us (Monday) the surge is stabilized with a straight face," she said. “This is a total gaslight of Florida residents and right in tune with his longstanding campaign of half-truths and mixed messages throughout this crisis.”
DeSantis said at a Tuesday press conference the key to curtailing the virus is for vulnerable people like the elderly or chronically ill to self-isolate and for others to wear masks and practice social distancing when in public spaces.
“Especially when it is hot out, when you pack a bunch of people in a private residence or have a party with loud music and a lot of hootin' and hollerin', that is going to be a strong venue for transmission," he said.
The governor has refused to issue a statewide mask order, however, saying that should be left to counties and cities, that what is right in Miami is not necessarily needed in rural communities.
Many of the state's major metropolitan areas have issued orders requiring masks inside public buildings and some closed beaches over the July Fourth weekend. Miami-Dade County on Monday again limited restaurants to outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez rescinded an order Tuesday closing gyms, however, saying now anyone inside would have to wear a mask.
The state announced Tuesday that it will send 100 nurses to help Miami-area hospitals as it grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases. Most of the nurses will work in the intensive care units for Jackson Health System, which has seen its COVID-19 patients triple in the past month.
The state also released a census of intensive care unit beds throughout Florida on Tuesday. About 16% of the state's nearly 5,985 adult ICU beds remain available. All ICU beds were being used at more than 50 hospitals across 25 counties, and more than two dozen additional hospitals reported that their units were more than 90% full.
Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, where the Republican Party moved next month's national convention because of social distancing requirements in North Carolina, Mayor Lenny Curry announced Tuesday that he and his family are in self-quarantine after he was exposed to the virus. Curry said he has tested negative but wants to be cautious.
The Democrats' call came shortly after the state confirmed 7,347 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total since March 1 to 213,794. Another 63 people died, bringing the total to 3,943. The 45 deaths per day averaged over the last week is a 50% jump since three weeks ago. Statewide, 380 patients were reported as newly admitted to hospitals, a single-day record.
Florida has been averaging more than 8,500 new confirmed cases per day over the past week, almost eight times the average of a month ago. Only a fraction of that is caused by increased testing — over the past week, about 46,000 people per day are being tested, a 70% increase from a month ago.
The biggest factor is that the seven-day average for tests returning as positive has skyrocketed, jumping from 4% a month ago to almost 19% on Tuesday. In late May, not long after the state's economy began reopening, the positivity rate was 2.3%.
On Monday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered schools to reopen classrooms in August unless health officials deemed it unsafe to do so. Distance learning would still be provided to students whose parents don't want them to return.
“There is a need to open schools fully to ensure the quality and continuity of the educational process, the comprehensive well-being of students and families and a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride,” his order states.
Schools closed in March and instruction was offered online to the state’s 2.9 million students.
Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie said Tuesday that it is unrealistic for his district, the state's second-largest, to fully reopen this fall.
“We will never compromise the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff,” he said.
Calvan reported from Tallahassee. Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.