TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that Florida’s curve of novel coronavirus infections has flattened and that an anticipated crush of patients was not going to materialize after all.
“Those predictions have been false," DeSantis said. “Our work is succeeding. We have flattened the curve.”
DeSantis said that projections from last month showing that the state would become like New York and Italy, which were hit hard from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were incorrect.
“Now we’re in a situation where we know the hospitals are not going to get overrun, we know the No. 1 thing that people were concerned about with this was that that type of catastrophe, that’s not going to happen," DeSantis said. "That’s not happened. We have all these extra beds and field hospitals and nobody’s there.”
DeSantis’ comments came on the second day that a task force he formed met to discuss reopening Florida. It meets all week and will make recommendations to help set the stage for when his stay-at-home order expires next Thursday.
On Monday, DeSantis told task force members that “the confidence of the public” is “just as important” as making sure restaurants and other places are safe to reopen.
“If you start having restaurants (reopen), even on a limited basis, how much confidence are people going to have that that’s safe, or some of the other things we used to take for granted?” he said.
He spoke to inspiring that confidence on Tuesday, comparing COVID-19 to two earlier crises he’s lived through — 9/11 and the Great Recession.
“I don’t think either of those rivaled this in terms of the amount of fear and panic that those instilled,” DeSantis said. "I think it’s important to tell people, ‘We’re going to be okay.’ We’re not out of the woods. This is something we’re going to have to deal with.”
One important step ahead will be convincing members of the public it’s safe to return to their previous lives. Yet many public health experts say no state, including Florida, is providing anywhere near the number of tests that would determine just how safe it is to return and provide the population protection from a flare-up or another outbreak. The lack of testing means the state is likely undercounting the number of COVID-19 cases.
But DeSantis said on Tuesday that Florida will provide the necessary testing to reopen the state.
“As people look at the next phase, they should understand that we’re all in on diagnostic testing, we’re all in on serological testing,” DeSantis said. “They’re both very, very important. We’ll probably have more testing sites in the next phase than in this phase because we don’t know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to pop up. We want employers to be able to send people to these places. I think that’s important.”
He didn’t say how many more tests will be conducted, at what cost or give a timeline.
But whatever precautions will be taken in the next phase, DeSantis defended how he had handled the crisis so far, particularly his decision to wait until April 1 to issue the stay-at-home order.
“People were saying we weren’t going on the right path,” he said. “They were saying all these things. A lot of that was politically motivated. A lot of these outlets have clear agendas. We know that.”
Florida has not seen the wave of coronavirus cases that many people feared. And the state’s hospitals have not been overwhelmed.
In fact, DeSantis pointed out, there are more hospital beds available now than before the crisis.
But much of the reason for that surplus in beds is because of mitigation steps that health experts recommended and that DeSantis later adopted, too — based on dire projections. Elective surgeries were called off. Hospitals expanded their own capacities. And social distancing measures were put in place.
DeSantis acknowledged that those steps helped.
“We’re on the right track,” DeSantis said. “And I think it’s because Floridians have really pulled together and worked really well regardless of party.”
Politico reported Tuesday that Florida was joining a coalition of southern states led by Republican governors that will coordinate the reopening of the Southeast. DeSantis’ announced the coalition earlier Tuesday on Fox and Friends.
Despite DeSantis’ eagerness to move on, however, overall numbers, while encouraging, remain grim.
An analysis by the Tampa Bay Times shows that while the number of confirmed cases appears to be declining, the same does not appear to be true for deaths.
The record number for new deaths was set April 15, with 72 deaths reported in the 24 hours ending that morning. There hasn’t been a day as high in the week since. Tuesday morning marked a 24-hour period with 50 new deaths, however, a mark higher than the average over the past week.
In his drive to reopen the state, DeSantis has been using nearly every public opportunity to show that earlier projections cited in news stories were wrong. On Monday, he sent a video over the state’s emergency alert system that derided earlier media reports that had showed “scary charts" about the virus’ projections.
On Tuesday, he named the Times/Herald in particular for citing models projecting a surge in hospitalizations that would overwhelm the system. State officials and hospital executives were also relying on dire projections from the state. State emergency officials created five pop-up field hospitals and hospitals converted office space and conference rooms to accommodate the anticipated surge.
“But if you look at where we are today vs. where we were six weeks ago, a lot of the predictions that were made time and time again, I would say nobody predicted that we would be in this spot where are now. So that’s a good thing.”
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HAVE YOU LOST SOMEONE YOU LOVE TO COVID-19?: Help us remember them
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
CONTRIBUTE TO THE SCRAPBOOK: Help us tell the story of life under coronavirus
BRIGHT SPOTS IN DARK TIMES: The world is hard right now, but there’s still good news out there
LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information, six days a week
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.