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PolitiFact: Ron DeSantis falsely claims he was never asked about COVID-19

The governor's new narrative about Florida's rising coronavirus numbers isn't based in fact. Here are the receipts.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a roundtable discussion with Miami-Dade County mayors during the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a roundtable discussion with Miami-Dade County mayors during the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Jul. 15, 2020

Gov. Ron DeSantis has a new narrative about Florida’s rising COVID-19 numbers: As cases leveled off in May, the media stopped covering the story, and the public grew complacent.

DeSantis made this case during his July 2 meeting in Tampa with Vice President Mike Pence, where he said that the pandemic "fell out of the news." at the end of May and beginning of June.

A week earlier, DeSantis said the media had returned its attention to the pandemic as the caseload grew in June amid reopenings of restaurants, shops and beaches.

“Well, I think now this is back in the news. I think people understand. Look, it was natural. It wasn’t much, I mean, I would do press events in May, I would never be asked about coronavirus,” DeSantis said June 26. “It was about all these other things. Now it’s something that they are (asking about).”

The other major news story that swept the nation and Florida starting in late May was the protests about police brutality and racism that followed George Floyd’s killing in police custody. As Florida journalists covered weeks of protests across the state, media outlets continued their pandemic coverage. In the week following Floyd’s death, we found news articles about Florida’s COVID-19 case numbers, reopenings of beaches and gyms in Broward, a photo gallery of pandemic life in Jacksonville, updates on openings and closings in southwest Florida, and the impact of the pandemic on hurricane planning, just to name a few of thousands of examples we found in Nexis.

Reporters pushed back against DeSantis, so we wanted to look into it.

We found that multiple transcripts of DeSantis press conferences in May show reporters asking him about lifting COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, the state’s rising unemployment and flawed benefits system, the plan for addressing spikes, and outbreaks in nursing homes and prisons.

We sent a link to those transcripts to spokespersons for DeSantis and asked what he was referring to when he said he wasn’t asked about the coronavirus. We did not get a response to our emails or phone messages.

Some of the COVID-19 questions

The press conferences we reviewed showed DeSantis taking questions about COVID-19, even if that wasn’t the main topic of the event. Reporters asked him about the pandemic at press conferences on judicial appointments and a road construction project.

We found at least a dozen times reporters asked DeSantis about COVID-19 in May. Here are a few examples. For our review, we used the transcript service Rev.com and video from the Florida Channel, a public affairs programming service based at the state Capitol.

May 3: Reporters asked about applicants for unemployment, antibody testing and efforts to protect people in nursing homes as well as a prison outbreak.

May 8: A reporter asked a question about the phases of reopening in South Florida.

May 11: DeSantis faced questions about people awaiting unemployment checks and the state’s unemployment website. A reporter started to ask a question about one of the covid case models that the state was looking at and DeSantis interjected: “Has that been accurate so far? Have any of the models been accurate so far?”

May 13: DeSantis faced a couple of questions about cases in long-term facilities including if he had considered testing for all residents and staff and why Florida was not pursuing the White House recommendation to test everyone in nursing homes.

May 15: Reporters asked questions about unemployment as well as when bars would be allowed to reopen and vacation rentals could resume. A reporter also asked if parents should send their children to summer camp.

May 22: Reporters asked questions about lifting restrictions, the number of pending unemployment claims and if the state had a plan if COVID-19 spiked in the future.

Our ruling

DeSantis said, "I would do press events in May, I would never be asked about coronavirus,''

His spokespersons did not respond to our multiple queries to figure out which events he had in mind. Our own review shows that he was asked about coronavirus issues at many press conferences. Questions related to unemployment, nursing homes, rules about reopening and how the state would handle spikes.

We rate this claim False.