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Coronavirus in Florida

Donna Shalala, Democratic leaders rip Trump administration

Leaders remain concerned as COVID-19 cases roil the state of Florida.

South Florida Democratic leaders blasted President Donald Trump’s administration for its handling of the coronavirus epidemic Thursday morning in advance of a visit by Vice President Mike Pence.

The Vice President will be in Tampa on Thursday to meet wth Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Terrie Rizzo, the Florida Democratic Party Chair, said it’s important to hold the administration accountable.

“Expect Mike Pence to come and try to pave over the Trump administration’s broken promises and reckless leadership during this crisis rather than take responsibility for the devastation,” said Rizzo. “It is true that Trump’s chaotic and delayed management at the onset of this crisis made the US the epicenter of the global pandemic. Today, however, we are here to talk about how Trump is continuing to make this crisis worse by ignoring health experts and prioritizing his own re-election.”

Rizzo was joined on a Thursday morning conference call by U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and public health expert Dr. Bernard Ashby. One by one, they addressed the coronavirus epidemic, which has hit Miami-Dade County particularly hard.

More than 40,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Miami-Dade, and Shalala noted that the county has the largest total of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the country. One moment later, she expressed surprise that the Trump administration continues to challenge the ACA in court. 

“It is immoral for Trump, Pence and this administration — with the support of our governor — to go to court to try to take healthcare away from literally millions of people in this country and hundreds of thousands of people in Miami-Dade,” said Shalala, who represents Florida’s 27th congressional district.

Shalala, the former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, said Trump has ignored science and public health recommendations. And Gov. DeSantis, she said, has followed his lead.

“Why are we in this situation? Because we didn’t do the right thing at the beginning and now we’re trying to play catchup,” said Shalala. “Only 50 percent of this state closed down. We needed at the beginning to hit this virus with a hammer, to starve it all the way down. …The governor has been meek. He’s been following the lead of the White House. He’s been consulting with the President and the President is literally endangering the health of every Floridian.”

Rodriguez, who represents Senate District 37, said that Democratic leaders are just as eager as Republicans to get the economy back into high gear. Still, he’s concerned that Florida’s leaders did not take advantage of the stay-at-home orders in a way that demonstrably affected the bottom line.

“That time was squandered,” said Rodriguez. “For many of us, it feels like we’re back at square one because in the state of Florida — just like at the federal level — there was not leadership putting in place testing and tracing. There was not leadership putting in rules of guidance that were appropriate to what was happening. Now it feels like frankly we might be back to square one because the precious time that so many people sacrificed and bought us has been squandered.”

Dr. Ashby, a cardiologist based in Miami Beach, said he was concerned by the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Florida. Unfortunately, he said, it was quite predictable. Many health experts, said Dr. Ashby, were concerned with Florida’s direction from the very start of the crisis.

“Myself and most health policy experts predicted that the step-by-step plan to reopen Florida launched by DeSantis was insufficient,” he said. “This reactive approach led to the shutdown of our economy and the anemic recovery, and now it’s leading to mandatory mask orders in multiple municipalities as a reaction to the increased rates of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

“I would just like to say I appreciate the fact that Trump has endorsed mask use. And so has DeSantis. My critique is, ‘Why so late?’ Welcome to the party.”

The handling of an epidemic, said Dr. Ashby, should be above all political considerations. After all, people on both sides of the aisle want the same exact things to occur.

“We want less people to die. We want more people to be happy. We want our economy to thrive,” he said. “The difference is where we place our cards and unfortunately the leaders of the United States and Florida have decided to place economic interests over life and death.”

Written By

Spencer Fordin grew up in Port Washington, N.Y. and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. Before working for FloridaPolitics.com, he spent 16 seasons with MLB.com and nearly three years as a general assignment reporter in the Cayman Islands. You can reach Spencer at SpencerFordin@gmail.com.

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