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Florida will reopen in ‘baby steps,' Ron DeSantis says in Tampa

Florida and Hillsborough County are doing better than expected, he said. But testing needs to ramp up.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis adjusts his face mask as he and John Couris, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital walk out after a news conference at Tampa General Hospital Monday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis adjusts his face mask as he and John Couris, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital walk out after a news conference at Tampa General Hospital Monday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Apr. 27, 2020
Updated Apr. 28, 2020

TAMPA — Florida, and Hillsborough County especially, is slowing the coronavirus outbreak better than anyone could have expected, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday. But he cautioned that a quick restart of Florida’s economy is unlikely.

Speaking from Tampa General Hospital, DeSantis reiterated what he has emphasized for more than a week: Florida is flattening the curve. Hospitals here are far from overwhelmed, he said, as the end of the state’s stay-at-home period approaches Thursday.

Related: Florida releases data on number of COVID-19 cases in each nursing home, assisted living facility

DeSantis offered few details on what will happen May 1 when his executive order expires, but said it would be “methodical, slow and data driven." Elective surgeries could be one of the first areas to see restrictions eased.

A state task force is expected to deliver recommendations this week on how and when to lift restrictions.

“This phase one is a baby step,” DeSantis said.

Charles Lockwood, MD, Dean, Morsani College of Medicine USF, left, looks on as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at Tampa General Hospital on Monday.
Charles Lockwood, MD, Dean, Morsani College of Medicine USF, left, looks on as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at Tampa General Hospital on Monday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

For more than a week, DeSantis has touted Florida’s hospitalization numbers as a sign that the state is nearing the end of a pandemic crisis. In many places, there are more tests available than people asking to be tested, DeSantis said, and he encouraged anyone to get a test who wants one.

However, that’s not possible everywhere. While the state has made testing open at its sites in Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami, some health care providers and local testing sites still require someone to have symptoms or a doctor referral before they can be tested.

The Tampa testing site at Raymond James Stadium, for example, doesn’t take any one who drives up, though Tampa General Hospital CEO John Couris said he expects that to change soon.

As they try to slowly reopen the economy, state officials are still far off the pace of testing to keep tabs on the virus.

The state needs to test 150 people for every 100,000 residents every day, said Dr. Charles Lockwood, the dean of University of South Florida’s College of Medicine who appeared alongside DeSantis at Tampa General. That’s about 33,000 people every day, more than double the current rate, or 2,250 just in Hillsborough County.

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“The disconnect is that we’ve been conserving our supplies while trying to anticipate the surge," Lockwood told the Tampa Bay Times after the press conference. ”We know that’s not going to happen now, so we need to begin testing everyone. We are still in the early stages of changing this.”

DeSantis declined to say whether he agreed with Lockwood’s assessment, but he affirmed testing will be critical in the next phase of controlling the outbreak.

The executive order that halted all elective surgeries expires May 8, and hospitals are working under the assumption it will not be extended unless there’s a massive uptick in new cases.

Couris said the plan is for a full schedule of procedures on May 11, "but some doctors will start back over that weekend.”

Perhaps this was wishful thinking, but DeSantis, a lifelong Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, said he hoped to see Tom Brady play at Raymond James Stadium -- when it’s a football palace and not a testing site -- later this fall.

“If we can get far enough along we can watch the new quarterback of the Bucs play,” DeSantis said, “and host the Super Bowl.”

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