Gov. Ron DeSantis struck an optimistic tone Wednesday, suggesting that restrictions on Florida schools and businesses could soon be relaxed while practicing social distancing.
It comes on a day when the most recent update shows Florida has 1,977 positive cases of novel coronavirus. The death toll is 23. It reflects the tightrope DeSantis has tried to walk for several weeks, trying to protect both vulnerable Floridians and the state’s collapsing economy.
The Governor is asking senior citizens and anyone with underlying medical issues throughout the State of Florida to stay at home to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. He also addressed hospital capacity, noting there’s still 35% of hospital beds available and 33% of intensive care beds open. The current hospitalization rate of coronavirus patients is between 18-20%.
He also addressed his recent executive order mandating travelers from the New York area be quarantined for 14 days, which as gotten praise from the White House. DeSantis says the National Guard has been monitoring flights from the New York City area and processing those passengers.
“What we’re going to do is we have a contract now with one of the Google apps so we’re going to make this digital now,” he said. “That will make it even easier for us.”
But DeSantis said he and President Donald Trump argue there are ways to continue to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus without thrusting people into protracted economic misery and ending up with public health challenges as well. Florida is a critical state for Trump’s reelection.
“We’re going to continue to do some level of social distancing,” he said. “But I think that there’s ways you can do that and still have a society that is doing more than simply on lockdown.”
DeSantis was in Orlando Wednesday morning, where the Governor openly questioned the wisdom of closing schools until April 15, saying the decision was made with input but no data. He said now there is no evidence to support the theory that closing the schools would slow the spread of the pandemic disease.
“I think there is a question about whether the school closures have been effective. There’s really no evidence and we kind of worked with our Commissioner of Education. Singapore, I don’t think Singapore closed their schools. And there’s no difference in how the virus spread in either of the countries based on that. There’s just not a lot of data that supports it,” DeSantis said Wednesday morning. “So you need to look to say, ‘OK; if the schools are closed, then what stress does that put on the parents?”
The Governor’s office did not respond to additional questions about his remarks. A spokeswoman for Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he agrees with DeSantis that there is no definitive data about the effectiveness of closing schools.
Through his spokeswoman Taryn Fenske, Corcoran said that while he gave a strong recommendation, the decision to close schools across the state was a local decision made by every school district. Fenske said the decision by Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Duval public schools to close weighed heavily on his recommendation because those districts make up a third of the state’s public school population. She says Corcoran’s recommendation was informed by Florida-specific guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.