Florida will see “significant fatalities for many weeks” as the state faces a full resurgence of the deadly coronavirus, the latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force warned.
The Jan. 10 report, released to the Tampa Bay Times on Friday, said the rapidly growing numbers of cases is stressing the staffing of hospitals. It continued to place Florida in the red zone for its numbers of new cases and said that 11 percent of the state’s hospitals are reporting a staffing shortage, a slight increase from the prior week.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force, which is led by Vice President Mike Pence, produces weekly reports for each state. The reports have frequently urged Florida and other states to take steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, including limiting capacity at bars and restaurants and implementing policies on face masks.
The Jan. 10 report notes the emergence of a potentially more contagious strain of the virus as a reason for Florida to take stringent measures to prevent the spread of the infection.
“Aggressive mitigation must be used to match a more aggressive virus,” the report recommended, adding that “without uniform implementation of effective face masking ... and strict physical distancing, epidemics could quickly worsen.”
It said Florida “must increase both statewide and local public mitigation” and to increase communication on the importance of things like avoiding family gatherings. It recommended that all K-12 teachers and older students, as well as those at colleges and universities, should have weekly testing. Florida has not required or asked for anything like that.
The report also pushed for efforts to quickly vaccinate people. As of Friday, nearly 850,000 people in Florida had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The percent of Floridians with at least partial vaccination was slightly higher than the U.S. average, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 1.5 million Floridians have tested positive for the coronavirus overall, and more than 24,000 have died.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has long been opposed to a statewide mask mandate and in recent weeks has focused his public comments about the coronavirus to the rollout of vaccines rather than to mask-wearing or other mitigation efforts.
The Florida Department of Health’s Twitter account, which used to post regular reminders about coronavirus precautions like mask-wearing, hand washing, social distancing and protecting the elderly and vulnerable, largely stopped such messages on Twitter a few months ago. The Twitter account has in recent days has been almost entirely devoted to sharing information on where to get vaccines and retweeting video of DeSantis’ news conferences.
DeSantis has previously called some of the task force’s recommendations “problematic.” His office had previously failed to provide the weekly White House reports to the public in a timely manner, prompting the Orlando Sentinel to file a lawsuit in December, alleging the state was violating the Public Records Act.
The state settled the lawsuit earlier this month, agreeing to provide the reports upon request within two business days and to pay $7,500 in attorneys’ fees.
In December, the federal task force said it would only furnish the reports to states if the states ask for them. So far, Florida, through its health department, has continued to request them, although some other states have stopped doing so.
Florida’s reports now are provided upon request to the public by the health department rather than the governor’s office.
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