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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, took the rare step of seemingly criticizing his fellow Republican for the lack of information released to the public about coronavirus.
“I was a little surprised — I was very surprised, actually — when I heard about the death in Lee County, which is adjoining to the county I live in,” said Scott, a Collier County resident, on Fox News Saturday morning. “We didn’t know there was even a presumptive case.”
He said the public should be getting as much information as possible about coronavirus.
“I dealt with Zika when I was governor, I dealt with hurricanes. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but do everything you can to keep the public informed, so they can make an informed decision,” Scott said.
DeSantis’ spokeswoman, Helen Ferré said the hospital did not inform state officials on Thursday that the woman had died since she had not yet tested positive.
“They did not tell us prior to (Friday) that she was deceased,” Ferré said. “There is no protocol that requires it.”
DeSantis learned about the death about 6 p.m. Friday, and the Department of Health issued a news release about the woman’s death and a death in Santa Rosa County about four hours later.
“The governor found out while he was having dinner with his family at the mansion,” Ferré said.
Scott’s tenure as governor, from 2011 to 2019, was marked by secrecy. He notably stopped the tradition of allowing reporters to listen to daily conference with disaster managers during hurricanes, for example.
When DeSantis became governor, he restored access. And DeSantis has given his agency directors more freedom to communicate with lawmakers and reporters, a change that lawmakers have praised.
Scott’s jab at DeSantis is only the latest evidence that the two do not get along.
Shortly before DeSantis took office, Scott made scores of appointments to various jobs in state government, many of which DeSantis then rescinded.
They are also considered rivals to be the alpha Florida Republican competing for president, possibly, in 2024. But still, Scott’s move to criticize the response to a crisis overseen by his successor was extraordinary and potentially awkward.
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DeSantis will need close allies in Washington as states will vie for federal aid to combat the coronavirus. Governors are usually in close contact with the senators from their home state to navigate crises. On Tuesday at 2:15 p.m., DeSantis and Scott spoke by phone to talk about the coronavirus.
DeSantis has a news conference scheduled Saturday afternoon in Fort Lauderdale to discuss the latest on the epidemic.
Scott’s spokesman, Chris Hartline, tweeted that Scott’s comments weren’t criticizing DeSantis.
Here’s the transcript of what Scott said this morning:
“Here’s the way I look at it. And I dealt with Zika when I was governor, I dealt with hurricanes. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but do everything you can do to keep the public informed so they can make an informed decision. I was a little surprised, I was very surprised actually, when I heard about the death in Lee County, which is adjoining the county where I live, we didn’t even know there was a presumptive case. We need to make sure where did this person travel. We need to make sure, if they traveled to the airport, who was on that flight. Let’s make sure they can get tested. But I think we need to do everything we can to get the public informed so they can make a good decision. We’re all worried about our families, I get lots of calls from family members, from friends, from citizens. They want more information so that they can make good decisions.”
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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide
Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.
PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.
BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.
FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.
WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.
READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.
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