Gov. DeSantis rejects statewide mandatory masking policy
With Florida topping 3,000 new coronavirus cases for the fifth time in six days, Gov. Ron DeSantis again spent the day trying to reassure Floridians that the spike is less of a concern than the raw numbers might suggest.
Sitting next to two doctors at an Orlando hospital Tuesday, the governor acknowledged that there seems to be an “escalation in transmission” but reiterated that many of the newly infected are younger individuals who are less at risk of becoming severely ill.
And DeSantis continued to reject the idea of statewide mandatory masking policy, saying “I think you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
A number of Florida cities and counties have implemented mandatory mask requirements in certain public settings and more are expected to follow, but DeSantis said the severity of the outbreak varies between communities and a statewide mask order is not appropriate.
“You’re seeing outbreaks in metro areas, you’re not necessarily seeing them the same way in other parts of the state,” he said. “And so when you attach criminal penalties for something you got to enforce it, and the question is, in some of the parts of Florida is that really a good use of resources?”
DeSantis added that: “I’ve encouraged the locals to fashion those policies that fit their communities and I think that they’ve done that.”
Florida’s surgeon general put out a public health advisory Saturday recommending people wear masks “in any setting where social distancing is not possible.”
DeSantis – who was not wearing a mask Tuesday but was spaced out from other press conference participants – said he hopes people will voluntarily wear masks when appropriate.
“When you can’t socially distance and keep that six feet wearing the face mask can help reduce that transmission,” he said.
While the governor is not pushing new regulations to control the virus, he does plan to more aggressively enforce existing rules. He said the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation will be looking for businesses that are flagrantly violating the state’s reopening guidelines, giving the example of a bar that is “just like mayhem, like dance party U.S.A. and it’s packed to the rafters.”
State officials recently suspended the liquor license of an Orlando bar near the University of Central Florida after 13 employees and 28 customers contracted the coronavirus.
In rejecting the need for more aggressive measures to control the virus, DeSantis has highlighted the fact that the median age of those getting infected has dropped significantly. He also is pointing to the capacity that exists within Florida hospitals to treat more patients.
Statewide 23% of adult intensive care unit hospital beds were not being used Tuesday.
DeSantis quizzed two Orlando Health doctors about the types of patients they are seeing.
Dr. Sunil Desai said only three of the hospital’s COVID-19 patients are on ventilators, a big decline from the number of patients on ventilators in April.
“So a significant drop in acuity, which is of course welcomed by all,” Desai said.
DeSantis emphasized the availability of ICU beds and ventilators.
“A case today is not the same as a case on, like, March 30th,” DeSantis said. “Because a case on March 30th was almost always somebody who was symptomatic, usually somebody who was at least 50 plus but many times 65 plus, so that’s a patient where the chance of clinical consequence is much higher.”
But University of South Florida public health expert Dr. Marissa Levine said this week that focusing on the shift in infections toward younger individuals is a message that “is not appropriate right now in my opinion.”
“When you have enough younger people who are getting infected and moving around as much as they’re doing, it’s only a matter of time before you have more older people, people who have underlying medical conditions getting exposed,” said Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at USF who leads the school’s Center for Leadership in Public Health Practice.
Levine said the “time to act is now” to control the virus and argued that policymakers should “have clear messages” and “consider mandates.”
Florida added 3,289 new coronavirus cases Tuesday. The number of COVID-19 deaths increased by 64 to 3,237 and the number of hospitalizations rose by 199 to 13,318.
Florida topped 3,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time on June 18 and exceeded 4,000 cases on Saturday. The statewide total since the outbreak began is now 103,506 cases.
On Monday Florida joined five other states – New York, New Jersey, California, Texas and Illinois – with more than 100,000 coronavirus cases.