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Ron DeSantis, on rising Florida coronavirus cases: you ‘can’t control’ what young people do

“You can’t control...they’re younger people. They’re going to do what they’re going to do,” said the governor.

TALLAHASSEE — The scope of the coronavirus outbreak in Florida is not as bad as the case numbers might have you believe, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Sunday.

Seated at a table with medical professionals during a Pensacola news conference, Florida’s top elected official again cited numbers that showed Floridians aged 18-44 are primarily responsible for the state’s recent spike in cases.

That group is going out more and socializing at a greater rate, DeSantis said Sunday. That’s why, he said, the state is seeing more cases.

“You can’t control...they’re younger people. They’re going to do what they’re going to do,” DeSantis said.

Cell phone data analyzed by the Tampa Bay Times this week backs up part of what DeSantis said. In May, Floridians began leaving their homes much more frequently than they had during March and April, the earlier days of the pandemic, that data showed.

Related: Florida’s coronavirus spike: 5 things to know

That movement was only somewhat correlated with the government’s actions. Floridians had begun leaving their homes more frequently even before DeSantis initiated reopenings in much of the state on May 4.

DeSantis noted, as he has consistently for weeks, that younger people are less at risk for the worst health outcomes from the virus. One doctor he appeared with, Jason Foland, the medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart in Pensacola, said that younger people could be suffering from a less severe strain of the virus — although he stressed that theory needs further study.

“If you get sick very quickly with an aggressive strain, you’re not out in the community and you’re not spreading it,” Foland said. “If you have symptoms much like the common cold, you’re spreading it all over the place.”

But Foland and DeSantis also pointed out that young people are not immune from the worst outcomes. Even asymptomatic carriers are not exempt from passing the infection along to a more vulnerable population.

The uptick in cases among young people spreading to the state’s sizable elderly population is the looming threat to Florida. On Sunday, DeSantis complimented the state’s older population for largely abiding by social distancing rules, while urging younger people to follow suit.

“The seniors have been very, very diligent,” DeSantis said. “I know it’s gone on now, we’re in the third month of this, and it can be tiring ― we just ask that you maintain that diligence.”

DeSantis has stressed personal responsibility while declining to pursue some actions that other hot spot states have put into place. For example, the Republican governor questioned the efficacy of a statewide indoor mask requirement on Friday. California has such a requirement in public spaces, as do at least 15 other states, in some form.

Although less than two weeks ago DeSantis vowed Florida was not “rolling back” the reopening of businesses, the state on Friday banned the serving of alcohol at bars across the state. On Sunday, DeSantis said this was a necessary step because of the “widespread noncompliance” of social distancing rules at bars across the state.

“When folks have followed the guidelines, you haven’t had problems,” DeSantis said.

The governor’s news conference came after a record-breaking weekend of reported positive cases in Florida. On Sunday, the state announced it had identified 8,530 more cases and 29 new deaths. The case numbers were down slightly from Friday and Saturday, in keeping with the state’s pattern of reporting fewer cases on the weekends.

But the death total ticked up from Saturday. It was also the highest number of deaths reported for any Sunday or Monday — normally the slowest reporting days — since the outset of the pandemic.

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