Ron DeSantis, on climbing coronavirus case numbers: ‘We’re not rolling back.’

The forceful defense of how his administration has handled the pandemic came on the same day that Florida reported 2,783 new coronavirus cases, more than it has ever recorded in a single day.
Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference in Tallahassee on June 16, 2020
Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference in Tallahassee on June 16, 2020 [ Florida Channel ]
Published June 16, 2020|Updated June 16, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — As the number of Florida coronavirus cases continue to climb and after his own administration announced that those who work at elder care facilities must now be tested, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he’s not considering another shutdown.

“We’re not rolling back,” DeSantis said during a news conference when asked whether he would consider stopping some reopening efforts. “The reason we did the mitigation was to protect the hospital system.”

On Tuesday, Florida reported 2,783 new coronavirus cases, more than it has ever recorded in a single day. It was the fourth time in six days that the state reported a record number of cases.

Those numbers have made national headlines, particularly because Jacksonville was recently picked to be the last-minute site of several high-profile Republican National Convention events at the end of August.

Although reported cases are on the rise, the average number of coronavirus deaths has remained around 40 per week since early May. DeSantis started reopening parts of the state on May 4.

An increase in the number of cases is a bad sign, but the meaning can be somewhat unclear. More cases could reflect the growing number of statewide tests, greater community spread due to reopening, or a combination of both. Death numbers, while lagging behind, aren’t so affected by the changes in testing.

DeSantis said Tuesday that Florida has undoubtedly seen the disease spread through some communities, However, he argued the recent rise in the number of cases has less to do with people’s behaviors and more to do with a change in the state’s testing strategy.

The strategy is two-pronged. Health officials conduct targeted testing of people who spend lots of time in close proximity with one another. At the same time, the state has made it easier for the largely asymptomatic general public to get screened.

Recent high-profile instances of community spread have dampened some local reopening efforts, however. At least four bars in St. Petersburg have closed their doors after employees tested positive for the virus.

DeSantis said shutting down the economy again would do more harm than good, and it wouldn’t stop farm workers, jails and other recent clusters of COVID-19 cases he cited from contracting the virus.

“Would shutting down the state stop some of the examples that I showed? I don’t think so,” he said.

He suggested that Floridians should be living with the virus without the prospect of shutting down the economy again.

“You have to have society function. You have to be able to have a cohesive society. That’s the best way to be able to deal with the impacts of the virus," DeSantis said. “To suppress a lot of working age people at this point I don’t think would be very effective.”

For now, the focus of health officials should remain on vulnerable populations like nursing homes, DeSantis argued. To that end, on Tuesday, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration issued an emergency rule making mandatory the testing of all staff and residents in assisted living facilities and nursing homes, the governor’s office announced.

DeSantis also said he was focusing on the financial effects of COVID-19. He said he plans to veto large portions of the state’s $93.2 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which was passed by lawmakers as the coronavirus was starting to shut down parts of the state.

“There’s going to be a lot of red. It’s kind of the veto equivalent of the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones,” he joked, referring to a dramatic scene from the hit HBO show and George R. R. Martin’s third book in the series in which (spoiler alert) some of the main characters were betrayed and killed by their allies on an occasion typically filled with mirth.

He didn’t say what he would cut, but did say the list would include some of his own priorities. When asked whether he would cut one of his top priorities — $500 million in teacher raises — he didn’t say.

“Teacher raises are important,” he said. “I said I’m going to veto some things in my budget, I’m not going to veto everything in my budget.”

DeSantis has until the end of the month to sign the budget.

Times staff writer Langston Taylor contributed to this story.