WESTON — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida is on a slow road to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, and that social distancing measures will remain in place while he reopens the state in phases — similar to the plan put forth by President Donald Trump in mid-April, but with some variations.
“If you look at that Phase One that the President has laid out, it’s not terribly different from what we’re doing now,” he said at a news conference in Weston on Saturday. But the governor drew some clear lines between his preferred approach and the White House’s plan, which includes guidance on social distancing in restaurants, theaters and sports venues.
“We’re not doing in-person sports yet no matter what,” DeSantis said. “That’s just not going to happen in May. ... Another thing in Phase One, they say movie theaters with social distance. I’m not there yet on the movie theaters. ... It’s an enclosed environment. You’re much better off being outdoors.”
The governor has appointed a task force charged with developing a plan for safely reopening the state, but that group has asked for more input from the state health department and doctors.
On Saturday, DeSantis paid a visit to Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston, where he used the hospital setting and a team of doctors in white lab coats to drum home the message that Florida has “flattened the curve.” He cited a recent statewide decline in positive test rates and hospitalizations.
“What we’re seeing is the percentage of people that go in to test and test positive is declining,” he said. “If you look at the last week, the average positive rate for new individuals was about 7.5%. So that’s a good sign that things are going in a good direction.”
DeSantis said Florida has more hospital beds available this week than when the coronavirus pandemic began in late February, and he derided the media’s reporting on data models that predicted the state’s hospitals would be overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“This week the number of people who’ve been in the hospital has hovered around 2,100 people,” he said. “Flattening the curve is all about making sure the disease doesn’t overwhelm the hospital systems,” he said.
In fact, hospitals in South Florida have been feeling the financial pain of canceling all non-emergency care and surgeries in preparation for the predicted surge of patients that did not materialize.
Wael Barsoum, CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida, said people have been avoiding hospitals and likely deferring needed care, which could cause their medical conditions to worsen. Barsoum, an orthopedic surgeon, also cautioned that there is still a lot left to learn about how to recover from a pandemic.
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“It’s never happened in any of our lifetimes that we have reversed a viral quarantine,” Barsoum said. “So what we’re going to be seeing here over the next several weeks and months will be educational to each of us. ... Please recognize that we will learn everyday, and we may have to step back from some of those decisions as a society.”
Barsoum added that it’s important for the elderly to continue to stay at home as much as possible, and to use face masks and gloves and observe social distancing to avoid infection.
DeSantis said he agreed with Barsoum’s assessment.
“We’re in uncharted waters,” he said, “and nobody knows what is effective.”
As of Saturday morning, the Florida Department of Health reported more than 30,000 known cases of COVID-19 and a statewide death toll of 1,055.
But the pandemic’s impact across the state has been uneven. Three South Florida counties — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — account for 60 percent of the total cases but make up 29 percent of the state population. Miami-Dade has the most cases of any county with 11,005 confirmed infections.
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