ORLANDO — Fred Piccolo, spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, deactivated his Twitter account Wednesday after he tweeted in the middle of night that photos of each dead COVID-19 victim should be balanced with 99 photos of people who survive the disease.
In response to a Reuters photo gallery on COVID-19, Piccolo wrote, “I’m wondering since 99% (of) Covid patients survive shouldn’t you have 99 photos of survivors for every one fatality? Otherwise you’re just trying to create a narrative that is not reality.”
According to a screenshot captured by WLRN reporter Danny Rivero, Piccolo was responding at about 4 a.m. to a tweet by Corinne Perkins, the North America editor for Reuters Pictures.
“This thread is dedicated to those saying we aren’t seeing images of the reality of COVID-19 in hospitals across the U.S.,” Perkins wrote. “This is not an exhaustive list but I wanted to highlight the stories @reuterspictures photographers bring to light.”
The thread included pictures of victims, despondent doctors and nurses, grieving families and overwhelmed funeral homes over the course of the pandemic, which had killed almost 328,000 people in the U.S. as of Wednesday.
Piccolo’s tweet drew an almost immediate angry response.
“Survive? I have friends who ‘survived’ who have hair falling out and can’t walk across a room without getting winded,” read one reply.
“Do some math for me, Fred. How many people is 1% of 330 million?” read another.
“‘Creating a narrative that is not reality’ is a good way to talk about Florida’s COVID numbers,” replied another, with a link to the South Florida Sun Sentinel article about the difficulty of determining how many Floridians died of COVID-19 following Thanksgiving gatherings.
Piccolo’s account was deactivated shortly after the controversial tweet. Piccolo told the Sun Sentinel on Wednesday he had already planned to leave the social media site.
“I’ve made people far angrier with other things in the past, this is just an observation that I think was worthy of consternation,” Piccolo said of his last tweet. “But I said this was going to be my Christmas gift to myself to get off of the medium, so I said let’s do it.”
Piccolo, who had formerly served as the spokesman for the Florida House speaker’s office, has gained notoriety for his often acerbic Twitter account that has pushed misinformation about the coronavirus.
Piccolo questioned the efficacy of mask-wearing and mask mandates at least 16 times, a Sun Sentinel report found, and has claimed at least three times that COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu.
About 3,200 people followed Piccolo on Twitter, and while he identifies himself as DeSantis’ spokesman, he didn’t appear to use it as an official messaging channel. Piccolo said Floridians can get information about DeSantis on Twitter from the governor’s official account.
“I think that we could use far more constructive interactions,” Piccolo added. “The anonymity that Twitter provides ... it’s usually not reporters or people in my position. It’s people with a handle like ‘lawnmowerman12’ and they scream and yell at you and they don’t want to interact in a constructive way. We’ve kind of become a country of screamers and yellers.”
“It would do us a lot better to have face to face discussions instead of virtual.”
DeSantis critic Danny Uhlfelder, an attorney who had filed a lawsuit against DeSantis in March trying to force beaches to close and a statewide shutdown, called Piccolo’s comments “disgusting.”
“He’s responsible for the communication message of the governor,” Uhlfelder said. “And he’s mocking or downplaying the deaths. It’s just inexcusable. I don’t know how you justify that. ... This is not a game. These are people that are suffering and dying.”